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Crystal clear

  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Manatee–Sarasota
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Executive Summary
Company. Metro Development Group Industry. Development, homebuilding, real estate Key. Company is investing millions on multiple projects on the Gulf Coast.

From the outside, crystal lagoons resemble giant swimming pools. But these aren't mere holes of water.

These lagoons, which originated in Chile, feature ultrasound pulses that keep water clean and crystal blue. And a lagoon like this is large enough to host small sailboats, kayaks and water sports.

The concept of crystal lagoons has caught on in more than 60 countries — but not the United States. Tampa-based Metro Development Group, with a history of more than 25,000 developed lots in 70 communities, plans to change that through a partnership with Crystal Lagoons Corp., says Metro President Greg Singleton.

The partnership is a key factor in the ambitious growth plans on the Gulf Coast for Metro, which has 10 communities under construction or in the planning stages in Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Lee counties. Prices for the homes range from about $200,000 to $500,000. Metro declined to share its revenue figures.

To put the size of these lagoons in perspective: An Olympic-sized swimming pool is 0.3 acres, according to Metro. Metro's lagoons, multimillion-dollar projects, will range from five to 10 acres, about the size of four to seven football fields, Singleton says.

Unique amenities such as crystal lagoons are only part of the strategy for Metro. “You have to find a way to be distinctive,” Singleton says.

Being distinct takes a lot of capital. The size of each community dictates the cost, but Metro's current communities require capital expenditures ranging from $25 million to more than $150 million. Canadian businessman John Ryan founded Metro in 2003 and the source of capital for projects, say company officials, comes from multiple private equity sources.

Competitive edge
An important element for Metro's success is to attract different types of homebuyers, from family-oriented parents to active adults to grandparents, Singleton says.

The crystal lagoons, which will be installed at four of the 10 communities, are one way the company plans to do that. “We're trying to activate the area around each lagoon to be fitting for multiple generations,” Singleton says.

There will be at least two beachfronts, one for families and one for active adults, he says, as well as areas for swimming and activities such as kayaking or paddle boarding.

For the water portion only, crystal lagoons cost about $250,000 per acre to install, Singleton says. That, however, does not include the surrounding amenities Metro plans to incorporate.

Beyond lagoons lies UltraFi Internet, which will be built into every home. UltraFi provides the fastest at-home Internet speeds, according to Metro, with up to 1 gigabit of speed. It operates up to 100 times faster than standard broadband speeds, Metro says. The connections are through a partnership with Bright House Networks, the second-largest cable company in Florida.

To implement UltraFi, each home must be equipped with special fibers that carry the Internet. Adding these fibers costs builders an additional $2,500 to $3,000 per home, says Mark Metheny, who runs the Central Florida office for national builder Lennar Homes. Lennar is one of several builders that Metro sells lots to in the communities it builds. Other builders include D.R. Horton, Homes by West Bay and Ryland Homes.

Other added features Metro plans to incorporate in its new communities on the Gulf Coast include Zen gardens, bird sanctuaries and other “organic gathering places,” Singleton says.
It's all about appealing to multiple groups of personality types and multiple generations. Metro calls its target demographic “intergenerational.” One significant feature in each community that fits into this multigenerational ploy: shaded parks.

“My personal pet peeve is when parks aren't shaded for toddlers,” Singleton says. “We shade them. It's beneficial for kids and parents.”

Marketing the communities
While some large-scale developers will let individual homebuilders within the communities handle marketing, Metro Development Group views that work as an opportunity to market itself.

Metro wants to prove one thing to its potential customers as it finalizes its new communities, and that is consistency. An easy-to-overlook yet important marketing strategy Metro deploys for that is signage uniformity. “Most developers have different signs for each builder down model row,” Singleton says. Metro puts the builder logo on each sign, but they're all the same size and color. “Signage is important. First glance is important.”

Attracting the millennial generation is a big challenge for Metro Development Group. Following the recession, the buying process for millennials was pushed back, something many builders and developers grapple with.

“Everything is delayed and deferred when they come out of college,” Singleton says. “That's a market that needs to come back. It's an opportunity for more demand.”

One way Metro zeroes in on millennials is through a large investment in digital marketing and social media. That follows the current trend in home buying, where most clients have seen the house online and are prepared with specific questions before they even see the property. Going digital also allows the company to remain nimble.

“What I like about it is it gives you a better sense of tracking how well you're doing and what works,” Singleton says. “You don't get that with a billboard.”

Shining opportunity
Outside of marketing and amenities, Metro Development believes it has another ally in timing, given the current housing market equilibrium where inventory is in short supply. The rent-buy question, front of mind for millennials, even leans buy: It's roughly 53% cheaper to buy in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater than it is to rent, according to real estate data firm Truila.

Part of why Metro is attractive to work with, says Metheny with Lennar, is because the firm sets the right price. Homes between $200,000 and $500,000 in suburban areas “give you more for your money,” he says. Those benefits include having more home, a yard and community amenities.

Another advantage for Metro is its geographical diversity. This allows the firm to sell lots in Tampa, where there are more first-time homebuyers and Fort Myers and Sarasota, which are more seasonal.

Singleton, who has been with the firm since 2006, previously handled Metro's banking relationship with Wells Fargo, when he was an executive with the mega-bank. And now after more than nine years with Metro, Singleton understands the industry is one with a lot of fluctuation. It's not always going to be about lagoons and fast Internet speeds. “In five or seven or 10 years, there will probably be something else,” Singleton says. “We just have to stay current.”

Metro Development Group communities

Pasco County
1. Union Park, 1688 Union Park Blvd., Wesley Chapel. Now selling homes.
2. Mirada, part of Metro's “Connected City Corridor” between San Antonio and Wesley Chapel. Expected to start selling in summer 2017.
3. Epperson, part of Metro's “Connected City Corridor” between San Antonio and Wesley Chapel. Expected to start selling in
summer 2017.

Hillsborough County
4. Park Creek, 10315 Riverdale Rise Drive, Riverview. Now selling homes.
5. Waterleaf, 11891 Frost Aster Drive, Riverview. Now selling homes.
6. Sereno, 5002 Bella Armonia Circle, Wimauma. Now selling homes.
7. Cypress Creek, 5594 Cypress Creek Blvd., Ruskin. Now selling homes.
8. An upcoming community across the street from Sereno. Expected to start selling in 2017.

Manatee County
9. Orange Creek, at the intersection of 27th St. E. and 26th Ave. E., Bradenton.
Expected to start selling in 2016.

Lee County
10. BrightWater, east of interstate 75 off of exit 143,
Fort Myers. Expected to start selling in 2017.


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