By Lynn Waddell

Read up on the latest start-up towns in southwest Florida.

Places to Go: Lakewood Ranch; Ave Maria

Things to see: Florida has a long tradition of brand-spanking-new cities built from scratch and connected to fortunes made elsewhere. Some of the most recent of these new cities are near Interstate 75, including Sarasota/Bradenton’s Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota’s Palmer Ranch.

The former, Lakewood Ranch, is known for its golf, Sarasota Polo Club matches and a new urbanist Main Street that overlooks Lake Uihlein. The Uihlein family acquired the 31,000-acre agribusiness called the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in 1922 – then expanded the area to include Lakewood Ranch in 1994. Lakewood Ranch is 8,500 acres. On Main Street, Lakewood’s Polo Grill and Bar is a perfect stopping point for folks heading up or down Interstate 75.

Ave Maria, conveniently located just 20 miles east of Naples and 80 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, is southwest Florida’s newest community.

The town is home to Ave Maria University, the nation’s newest Catholic university and the vision of Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan with over 850 students. As a community, Ave Maria is a vibrant development of over 3,500 residents socializing and enjoying life’s abundance — all in one of Florida’s best known destinations, Naples.

An awe-inspiring, 100-foot-high Oratory stands as a focal point in the center of town surrounded by a Piazza consisting of boutiques, restaurants and pubs, and cobblestone walkways. Internationally known sculptor Márton Váró lends his artistry to the newly unveiled 35-foot-tall Annunciation sculpture on the Oratory’s façade, a spectacular monument to the arts.

Ave Maria hosts year-round festivals and events for families including the spirited Touch of the Irish event in March and the enchanted Celebration of Lights in early December.

Visit new model homes and play a round of golf at the Panther Run Golf Club during your visit. Check the town’s calendar for upcoming events and information at

Places to Stay: Ave Maria has plans for a hotel, but until then, the Inn on Fifth, a European-style boutique hotel in Naples, looks the part. A bit closer, and due west of Ave Maria, is LaPlaya Beach and Golf Resort.