Back in 2011, when development in Ave Maria seemed permanently stalled, when businesses were closing and spirits were low, a speaker from Ave Maria Development tried to put matters in perspective. Taking the podium before an assembled crowd, he said something like, “Maybe we’ve been looking at this project too short term. Maybe developing a community like this will take 100 years.”
“Now he tells us,” said an exasperated merchant sitting next to me.
But five years later, thanks to the commitment and vision of the developers, new neighborhoods have sprung up and once-barren vistas stand studded with houses, 1,000 of them or more. Even though that’s nowhere near the 6,000 predicted for this point, who’s complaining? After all, few could have foreseen the housing crash that set in shortly after Ave Maria opened in 2007, bringing growth to a near-screeching halt.
Today, the picture is much brighter, and industry recognition rolls in for Ave Maria Development, recently designated a Top 50 Master Planned Community in the country for 2015 by noted national real estate consulting firm, John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Ave Maria ranked 40th with 283 new homes sales in 2015, a 25 percent increase over new home sales in 2014. In addition, Ave Maria earned top spot as the Community of the Year in the under $500,000 category by the Collier Building Industry Association.
Growth in Maple Ridge is impressive. What a change from the days when I would walk with my dog along a few lonely bulldozer ruts in the weeds across the once-vacant acres on which the burgeoning neighborhood now stands, with only the dragonflies to keep us company. Now, one- and two-story houses built by CC Devco line street after street, ranging from approximately 2,000 to 5,000 square feet and having three to six bedrooms.
Construction is also underway at Maple Ridge Reserve, a neighborhood with larger size lots that sits by itself on the west side of Ave Maria Boulevard, south of the university. Homes there will come complete with paver driveways, professional landscaping, 10 to 12 foot ceilings and granite countertops. On Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30-31, Maple Ridge Reserve will hold a model grand opening, with a chance for those registering to win a $1,000 cash prize.
In Del Webb, an active adult community for people over 55, sales have been brisk. That’s where Pulte Homes has been focusing its efforts for years, but recently, the home builder has resumed construction in two of the original neighborhoods, Hampton Village and Emerson Park.
Pulte is also the home builder for Ave Maria’s newest neighborhood, Avalon Park, a single-family neighborhood adjacent to Donahue Academy, the private K-12 Catholic school in Ave Maria.
“It’s very exciting to see the Ave Maria growing,” says Jean Mastandrea, who owns Salon d’Maria along with her husband Michael. “There were some very challenging years. But it was worth the wait.”
Bob Campbell, who, with his wife Erin opened the John R. Wood Realty office in town 4 years ago, told me, “Folks believed this was going to be a failed development. There were a lot of misleading stories about what kind of town Ave Maria actually was.” Due to increased traffic the office now has four full-time Realtors and Campbell predicts more will be added.
As I look out my window at the shoppers and strollers, I reflect happily that no longer does the town center look like a place where I might take a nap in the street. I can’t say for sure where we are in the 100-year plan, but we’re much farther along than I would have thought five years ago.
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More news and information about Ave Maria can be found in The Ave Herald (www.aveherald.com) which Patricia publishes along with her husband, David Shnaider.