Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Ten Years After

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Ten Years After

Article excerpt

Murdock Village

Murdock Village haunted by mistakes of the past

1,110 acres of undeveloped land in Charlotte County -- is more than a real estate investment gone bad.

From its outset, the village-in-name-only has been a stunningly expensive example of government incompetence, fueled by political arrogance.

The failure of Murdock Village to provide tangible benefits to taxpayers -- despite expenditures exceeding $100 million -- is a high-cost lesson in the risks of government excesses and hubris.

For better and for worse, the Charlotte County officials who decided -- without performing due diligence -- to plunge local government into the land-development business are no longer in office.

But, as Josh Salman of the Herald-Tribune reported Monday, the county and its taxpayers are on the hook for those decisions -- with little prospect for even a modest return on their huge investments.

Today's leaders in Charlotte understandably emphasize the property's potential. But two successful developers recently used these words to describe the present state of Murdock Village:

"It's a disaster. It just makes zero sense to develop," Carlos Beruff told Salman.

"The problem with Murdock Village is the millions of dollars in debt. Traditionally, local governments don't attempt to develop property, and here the reasons why," said Pat Neal, a former Florida senator.

Murdock Village is certainly not the only development that failed to materialize during the past decade, which included the Great Recession and the near-collapse of the real estate market in Florida.

But Murdock Village was uniquely created by local government and funded by taxpayers, with little regard to the dangers -- which critics repeatedly warned about -- of venturing into risky business.

Revisiting history

The formative stages of Murdock Village occurred in response to the unfortunate legacy of the General Development Corp.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, GDC sold tens of thousands of lots to people all over the world. More often than not, the lots were sold sight unseen.

In Charlotte County alone, GDC sold 263,597 lots encompassing 75,642 acres; thousands more were sold in North Port, across the border in Sarasota County.

GDC sold the lots, platted the land and built roads. Yet thousands of the lots remained vacant as other parts of Charlotte County developed rapidly a decade ago.

Public meetings led by the respected Urban Land Institute focused on how to responsibly develop 125 acres of the small lots.

But the Charlotte County Commission got greedy and decided to buy and consolidate lots on a 1,100-acre tract, where about 80 homes had been built. The county sought willing sellers but, in another huge mistake, eventually took properties from unwilling owners through contentious, costly eminent domain proceedings. …

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