Neal Communities partners with Sarasota County to build much-needed sidewalk on Bay Street in Osprey
OSPREY, Fla. — Neal Communities, southwest Florida’s premier, private homebuilder, recently partnered with Sarasota County to build a sidewalk on the north side of Bay Street in Osprey, beginning approximately 140 feet west of the extension of Park Trace Boulevard and extending to the intersection of Bay Street and Old Venice Road.
The county initially budgeted $1.2 million for the project, but Neal Communities was able to complete the project for $304,000. Through the partnership, the county not only was able to save nearly 75 percent of the estimated cost, which can now be used toward future projects, but also saw the project completed well ahead of schedule.
“We want to improve the quality of life in our region, assure that public infrastructure is built and do a good job,” said Pat Neal, CEO and chairman of the board at Neal Communities. “Neal Communities is unique in this regard. We think it is an important part of our brand, philosophy and our guiding principles.”
The public-private partnership was met with enthusiastic applause from a group of Osprey residents who had expressed concern over impending safety issues from increased traffic along Bay Street as a result of the Bay Street extension to Honore Avenue.
“This sidewalk is a wonderful step in the right direction,” said Jerry Grens, a member of the Coalition of Osprey Transportation and Safety (COTS). “Bay Street is less dangerous now because of what Pat Neal was able to do and because of the timing. But there is still work to be done by the county to make Bay Street an acceptable and safe road for the anticipated traffic in the near future. Sometimes good things happen when people cooperate and work in harmony.”
On Dec. 14, 2018, Neal Communities Land Development Manager Randy Olson and his team completed the 5-foot-wide sidewalk just two months after receiving approval from the Sarasota County Commission. Prior to the opening of the Bay Street extension, a new 1.1-mile, two-lane, east-west corridor from Pine Ranch East Road and Willow Bend Way to the Honore Avenue roundabout opened on Dec. 2, 2018.
Initially, Neal Communities was required to build a sidewalk along River Road adjacent to its Grand Palm community in Venice. However, the homebuilder was unable to do so because it would have been immediately demolished by the construction of the new River Road Regional Interstate Connector, formally known as the Englewood Interstate Connector (EIC), a 12.7-mile road reconstruction project along River Road.
River Road has long been viewed as a dangerous and flood-prone route with the majority of River Road being a rural two-lane undivided highway with no sidewalks. The project will involve the construction of a sidewalk at an elevation about six feet higher than the present roadway. If Neal were to construct the sidewalk within the existing right-of-way and at the current elevation, not only would it be unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists but also the improvement would have to be demolished as part of the construction project.
As a result, Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson came up with the idea for Neal Communities to build the Bay Street sidewalk as an alternative.
On Oct. 9, 2018, County staff received unanimous approval from the Sarasota County Commission for a variance to construct an alternative sidewalk on Bay Street in lieu of constructing the sidewalk adjacent to River Road.
“The great thing about public-private partnerships is that entrepreneur-driven private entities can move more quickly and more economically than the government,” said Neal. “Our team was able to build the project quickly, preserve the environment and build the project at about 25 percent of the initial estimated cost.”
Over the years, Neal Communities has been instrumental in the successful completion of a number of major public projects across Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, including U.S. Highway 301, the Fort Hamer Bridge, Toledo Blade Boulevard, Honore Avenue and the Fort Hamer Extension, among others.