NORTH PORT – The city of North Port, which now boasts a population of 80,000 was ranked as the second-fastest growing city in the U.S. by Quicken Loans, behind Cape Coral/Fort Myers.
North Port posted a 5.5% year-over-year population growth while Cape Coral/Fort Myers, with a population of 92,245, grew by 6.8%
Four other Florida municipalities also made the top 10: No. 3 Winter Haven, No. 5 Port St. Lucie, No 6 Daytona Beach, and No. 9 Palm Bay.
What it means
North Port can claim this crown for itself, instead of sharing it with Sarasota and Bradenton. While many listicles typically tout the combined North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area for various rankings, a spokeswoman for the company that touts the Quicken Loans survey said North Port was evaluated on its own. Fort Myers and Cape Coral, on the other hand, were combined because they were ranked very closely with similar metrics.
That means growth in surrounding Sarasota and Manatee counties – including fast-growing master planned community Lakewood Ranch – wasn’t part of the equation for North Port.
None of this surprises City Manager Jerome Fletcher, who watched the city grow from 77,000 to 80,000 in the 15 months he’s been there. “That growth spurt is indicative of the growth that this area is having,” Fletcher said.
For North Port’s own fast-growing section of town, Wellen Park, the next big thing will be a grand opening celebration for Downtown Wellen – the mixed-use downtown core area centered around an 80-acre man-made lake.
For the rest of the city the next big thing will depend on how successful it is in finding private partners to develop three separate tracts of parkland.
The question of how to best reopen and foster development on a portion of Warm Mineral Springs has prompted the most discussion but the city has also contracted with Colliers International to find private partners to develop a portion of 19-acre Dallas White Park and a 26-acre site off of Italy Avenue, near Atwater Park.
A balancing act
Fletcher acknowledges that growth brings challenges. Officials have been working on communicating their view growth can’t be stopped, so the focus should be on handling it. At a recent meeting of area government officials, hosted Jan. 20 by the Sarasota County School Board, planners discussed the fact that as many as 39,000 lots could be built on in North Port today.
“What I keep saying is we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, so if that’s the case, how do you balance growth with being sensible and safe with your environment, with your budget, with your activities, with your schools?” Fletcher said. “What I want is for us to be responsible with our growth so we plan on allowing the citizens to have the best experience they can in the city.”