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ORLANDO-An unprecedented ground-breaking is scheduled this month on the first of 7,000 plannedmulti-family and single-family housing units in a mixed-use development in Harmony, FL–which isn’t even on most maps.

Fifteen minutes from Walt Disney World, the 11,000-acre site will also house office, retail and industrial space.

An 18-hole, 7,400-yard Johnny Miller-designed golf course, built on a 268-acre preserve, is finished and will have its grand opening in November.

The planned $2 billion mixed-use development, 10 miles east of St. Cloud, FL and about 40 minutes from Downtown Orlando, is being created by former Orlando investment banker James Lentz; his wife, Martha Lentz, former director of the Orlando Humane Society; and associates. Their investment group is called Birchwood Acres LP.

A.J. Gallagher Co., a Chicago-based insurance brokerage, is the development’s key funding supporter.

The Lentzes are doing the project to study how animals can improve the quality of life for humans. Martha Lentz created Harmony Institute in 1996 for that specific purpose. The Harmony development ties in with the Institute’s goals.

The breadth and scope of the Harmony development is unprecedented in Florida because 70% of the community’s 11,000 acres at the former Triple-E Ranch will be preserved for wildlife.

Two 500-acre, sandy-bottom lakes, the centerpiece of the development, will have no homes surrounding it. Gas-powered boats and personal watercraft will be banned. Homes will have porches and back alleys, largely unheard of in today’s cookie-cutter-styled subdivisions.

A $40 million, 2,000-student capacity high school on 70 acres donated by the Harmony development breaks ground in October and is tentatively scheduled for completion by August 2004.

A 700-student capacity Charter school for kindergarten through the eighth grade will be built over the next three years. A temporary Charter school from kindergarten through the third grade already is operating.

The enterprise will take the Lentzes and their associates 20 years to complete. They are not in any hurry. They have been planning the project since 1990 when they acquired the Harmony development.

“Most real estate marketers have yet to figure out the difference between progressive development, such as this project, and conventional development,” Lentz tells GlobeSt.com.

Funding progressive developments is more difficult than financing conventional projects, he says. Lentz cites a May 2001 thesis prepared for the Brookings Institution by Christopher B. Leinberger, a partner in Santa Fe, NM-based Arcadia Land Co., as the bible for progressive developers and a blueprint for his own project.

“The financial markets are, by necessity, conservative, whether for equity or debt,” Leinberger says in the article published in Capital Xchange Journal. “The lack of a long track record of successful projects means that virtually all progressive developments now being planned will have difficulty obtaining financing.”

Those projects that find their own financing, however, could result in big payoffs down the line, Leinberger says.

“Ironically, the few financial successes of progressive development projects have resulted in some of the highest for-sale housing prices and retail and apartments in the project’s region,” says Leinberger who teaches real estate corporate strategy at Harvard University.

“If we can achieve 10% of what he says in his presentation, we’ll be satisfied with the results,” Lentz tells GlobeSt.com.

Homes will be built on one-acre to five-acre lots at prices still to be determined. Lentz points to the Seaside community built in Florida’s northwest Panhandle in 1984 as an example of how lot prices have escalated at some progressive developments.

“Prices for lots generally 45 feet by 110 feet started at $15,000 in 1984,” Lentz tells GlobeSt.com. “The lots are selling today, if available, at 1 ½ million each.” Homes at Harmony will be in a mixed-price range to possibly $1 million.

Lentz has selected five builders, screened by himself and associates, to built the homes and multifamily units. The builders are D.L. Horton of Dallas; NWA Builders, Distinctive Homes, Wetherington Builders and Robertson Homes, all of St. Cloud, FL in Osceola County.

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