Health to be the focus of Wellen Park marketing for development


By Earle Kimel

Owners of the development once known as the West Villages plan to emphasize wellness and push for a wide demographic as the community evolves.

NORTH PORT — The aspirational future of Wellen Park is embodied in an 80-acre created lake that will be encircled by a three-mile fitness track.

The area would also include a performance lawn, a town hall that could serve as anything from a meeting and wedding venue to an indoor performance stage, and a destination resort-style hotel.

“A really, fun, energetic area,” said Rick Severance, president of Mattamy Homes’ Wellen Park Division. The new name branding the development was to take effect June 8.

That lake will also become the centerpiece of Downtown Wellen — the town center that is also envisioned as a major focal point for the city of North Port.

“I think you have to look at the level of investment we’re making in creating the downtown, as well as the 80-acre lake,” Severance said. “We’re making an investment in putting a three-mile wellness track around that lake, which is completely open to the public — all the residents of the West Villages, the city of North Port, and our investment in the Publix-anchored marketplace and the retail and shops.

“We are doing what we can to drive additional benefits, amenities and attributes to their overall lifestyle experience,” he added. “I think Mattamy and the developer have made a significant investment in ensuring that what we provide is of quality and of interest, and can be a benefit to all of our residents.”

Phase one of the Downtown Wellen Town Center should include offices above retail shops, four restaurants — three of those full service — a rooftop bar, a playground, a splash pad and a kiosk area for food trucks.

“We’re excited about how phase one is coming together,” Severance said.

For now, that vision is a goal, as workers currently dig the lake on land that once was a cow pasture, and architects tweak potential building designs for a town center that’s still several years away from fruition.

Six years after purchasing the former Thomas Ranch south of Venice from Georgia-based developer Stan Thomas — and with it controlling interest in the West Villages Improvement District, site of an overvall development called the West Villages — Mattamy Homes decided to rebrand the area as Wellen Park.

The word “wellen” means waves in German and wellness in Dutch. A series of focus groups keyed on that to derive the “halo brand” for the fast-growing development as Wellen Park.

The West Villages Improvement District is a special taxing authority that assesses fees to pay for construction of roads, stormwater retention areas and other infrastructure for the development, which consists of several subdivisions.

The existing neighborhoods of Gran Paradiso, Island Walk, Renaissance, Oasis and The Preserve are all still part of the West Villages District.

Grand Palm and Sarasota National, two subdivisions associated with Wellen Park for marketing purposes, will continue to be marketed along with the West Villages neighborhoods.

Boca Royale, which fronts State Road 776, is also associated with Wellen Park for marketing purposes. It will be marketed as part of the new Playmore District, which Severance noted is the next big area for expansion, with 2,300 residential units under contract in Playmore and construction expected over the next 12 to 18 months.

By creating Wellen Park, the developer hopes to incorporate the concept of wellness, while marketing to buyers of all age groups.

“We have branding and messaging that shows the districts as part of the new branding rollout,” Severance said. “So when we’re communicating about Wellen Park we’re talking about dynamic districts, we’re talking about Downtown Wellen, we’re talking about great neighborhoods.

“The intention is to allow the districts to play a part in our overall messaging.”

While the area has been consistently ranked anywhere from third to fifth on lists of the fastest-growing master planned communities in the country, it also suffered from confusion with The Villages, the sprawling retirement community that spreads across Lake, Sumter and Marion counties in north-central Florida.

Free of that shadow, Severance sees Wellen Park establishing an identity as a series of neighborhoods that will be developed to appeal to families as well as retirees, with an emphasis on wellness.

Severance is planning to lean heavily on health-related opportunities for non-residential development.

“I think with wellness being a strategic pillar for us, having meaningful discussions about health care, medical and lifestyle is important — whether that’s fitness, occupational therapy, rehab therapy, concierge medicine,” Severance said. “Those are all part of what our discussions are in the next five to seven years.”

The developer is also eyeing additional hotel space, “both on the boutique hotel side as well as more traditional hotels,” Severance said, while referring to the Major League Baseball Atlanta Braves, the spring training tenant in the baseball complex within the development. “The Braves need that, the downtown is a likely candidate to have a waterfront hotel,” he said.

Severance noted that contracts are already signed with a developer to build apartments and one for assisted living. Both of those are marked on the master plan map as fronting U.S. 41, just north of the West Villages Marketplace shopping center.

“Everything we’re working on is two years in advance but we have a lot on the horizon and we’re excited about that,” Severance said. “We’re trying to be mindful of the fact that our residents want to make a choice on where to live and when they select Wellen Park, they need to also be mindful of ‘where their parents go, their aging parents?’

“I think it’s a logical use type for us to layer that in.”

In addition to construction of the town center, the developer still has significant amounts of infrastructure — including an interior road network that would someday create additional accesses to River Road, as well as a way to access S.R. 776 — that will also open acreage to the south of the city of North Port that is part of the district but lies in unincorporated Sarasota County.

Severance said that a portion of what is designated on the master plan as “Future Manasota Beach Road” needed to service the Playmore district neighborhoods should come on line in 12 months.

Extensions of Playmore Road, which runs east-west from Preto Boulevard to the northern portion of the Atlanta Braves Spring Training Complex at CoolToday Park, and Manasota Beach Road east to south River Road are significantly farther down the timeline — possibly as far as four years away.

Extensions of West Villages Parkway to South River Road — where it would link opposite of Winchester Boulevard, as well as “Future Keyway Road” which would link Boca Royale to the rest of Wellen Park, are farther away still.

“They’re all part of the master thoroughfare plan,” Severance said.

With a projected build-out of 22,000 homes, Wellen Park will continue to be a work in progress.

“We’ll be doing this for a while and we think that’s exactly why the developer chose to brand all of the land holdings,” Severance said. “As the original land owner and purchaser looked at the development, we’re talking about a 20-year horizon over 7,000 plus acres yet to be developed.”

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