Southwest Florida Roundup
America's first solar-powered town relies on infrastructure after Hurricane Ian devastation
Babcock Ranch goes two for two during hurricanes.
Pocket of Light
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, an estimated 2.7 million Florida homes and businesses lost power. For customers of LCEC, which provides electricity to more than 240,000 homes and businesses in hard-hit towns including North Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Marco Island, Pine Island and Sanibel, more than 90% of the utility’s customers lost power. But about 20 miles west of where the storm came ashore, Babcock Ranch, which bills itself as “America’s first solar-powered town,” has a different story to tell. None of its nearly 2,000 homes lost power.
“Ian put us to the ultimate test,” says Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson and Partners, Babcock Ranch’s developer. “We’ve shown that building in the right place, and in the right way, with hardened infrastructure designed from the beginning with storms in mind, makes it possible to shelter in place and quickly rebound.”
Hurricane Ian’s winds knocked over some of the town’s trees and damaged some pool cages, but FPL’s two 74.5-megawatt solar facilities reported no significant damage. The transmission lines, connecting the solar fields with the FPL substation at Babcock Ranch, fared well. All the lines from the substation to the homes are underground.
The hurricane was actually a second test for Babcock’s electrical infrastructure. In 2017, when the town had only one 74.5-megawatt facility online, Hurricane Irma passed directly over the town. Only two of the plant’s 343,000 solar panels had to be replaced because of damage from flying debris.
- Work is underway on a 110,700-sq.-ft. industrial building in Pinellas Park’s Gateway Centre Business Park.
- California-based warehouse logistics firm Merit Logistics is moving its headquarters to Tampa. The company, which plans to bring 20 jobs in finance and human resources, purchased a 7,430-sq.-ft. office in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
- The Tampa Bay Innovation Center business incubator in St. Petersburg has created an accelerator program to help climate technology startups. The focus, says Chris Paradies, the center’s chair, will be “helping startups develop technologies that have real-world applications and impact. Many technologies in the industry simply don’t yet exist or are too costly for adoption.”
- Phaidon International, a British hiring company, has opened an office in Tampa, where it will employ 200. The Tampa office is the company’s seventh in the U.S., where it also has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C.
- Bayfront Health plans to build a three-story, 60,000-sq.-ft. Women’s Pavilion just east of its 480-bed downtown St. Petersburg hospital. The facility is expected to open in 2024.
- Tampa General Hospital has opened a diagnostic clinic in St. Petersburg, offering urgent care, primary care and cancer-care services.
- Tennessee-based Community Health Systems has closed ShorePoint Health Venice, a 312-bed hospital. The move comes after Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s 110-bed Venice hospital opened last year.
- In response to a shortage of nurses, Sarasota Memorial Hospital says it will hire 50 nurses and six medical technicians from the Philippines by 2023.
- Polk County’s planning commission has rejected a zoning change that would have allowed HCA Florida Healthcare to build a 60-bed hospital south of Lakeland. Neighborhood residents opposed the change, saying it would create traffic problems.
- Georgia-based RangeWater Real Estate plans to build a 186-unit townhouse complex in Bradenton, near Lakewood Ranch, by next October.
- A 325-unit apartment complex overlooking Old Hillsborough Bay is planned near West Shore Boulevard and Gandy Boulevard in Tampa.
- The David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health in Naples received a $250,000 grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.
- A former Selby Gardens volunteer who died in 2021 at age 101 has left the gardens $2.5 million. Evelyn S. Mink worked mostly in the gardens’ welcome center.
- Tampa law firm Barnett, Kirkwood, Koche, Long & Foster is now part of the statewide Gunster law firm based in West Palm Beach. The move nearly doubles Gunster’s Tampa presence to about 50 attorneys. Gunster has 12 offices and 250 attorneys in Florida.
- Tampa Bay Water has approved a water pipeline route to serve south Hillsborough County customers. Planned to be completed by 2028, the 26-mile pipeline will cost $419 million and deliver up to 65 million gallons of water each day.
- DZS, a Texas-based software and networking equipment maker, is cutting 58 jobs at its Pinellas County factory. The layoffs total about two-thirds of the facility’s workforce.
- BayFirst Financial, a St. Petersburg mortgage company, will close its Clearwater office, resulting in more than 50 job losses.