Punta Gorda Isles on the west coast of Florida is a place where boating is a preoccupation and retiring is just a word in the dictionary meaning shy. Recently, PGI - as it is known all over Florida - celebrated its 20th birthday.
Twenty years of on-deck steering by the developers of a Florida land and housing project may be something of a record in a state so often criticized for a develop-sell-and-run philosophy.
Today, PGI Inc. controls acreage in six adjacent west coast Florida counties and is developing several interesting new communities. The spin-offs get high marks for good land-use planning. The brochures touting Sugarmill Woods, near Homosassa Springs, as "a sportsman's paradise in the land of three seasons" are not too far off the mark. An inland community, just north of Tampa Bay, it is has an unspoiled piney-woods atmosphere and is only 10 miles from coastal activities. Built to created national interest and architectural kudos.
A few miles south and inland a from BPGI is the Burnt Store Golf and Racquet Club, where new homesites are nw being developed. It will also have a boating community and it is reported to have one of the largest marinas on the west coast at Boca Grande.
PGI was the breainchild of three men, two of whom are native born Floridians, Alfred M. Johns of Jacksonville and Wilber H. Cole of Clewiston. Having traveled the world, all recognized the unique waterway situation of Punta Gorda and its then undeveloped mangrove islets.
In its day Punta Gorda - or "fat point" - has been an Indian playground, a sleepy Spanish fishing village, a railroad terminal and resort home of barons. It reverted back to fishing village when railroads slowed to a halt in the area.
The developers of the Isles parlayed their original 550 acre parcel into an 80,000-acre holding. Today in the Isles there are over 15,250 property owners and 6,700 single homesites as well as 760 multi-family sites.
Over the years the corporate picture at PGI has changed. One man retired but remined a homeowner. A new arrival, Wayne Goff, former DuPont executive, made waves as head of construction for PGI. He built show-stopping model homes and the present group is dominated by the House of Waterfall - a $200,000 architectural spectacular that is created out of a series of arches, circles and has an 18-foot rock waterfall dominating the pool scene. The house drew 100,000 visitors six months after it opened in February of 1976.
No two homes in PGI are alike. This is company policy. Building slowed with the mid-70 recession but picked up to 100 housing starts in 1976.
Until 1969 all homes here were on lots located on 100-foot wide, uniformly seawalled, saltwater waterways leading into Charlotte Harbor. However dredging restrictions have brought changes to the area.
Lot prices range from over $6,000 to $50,000. And today homes may range in price from $50,000 to the price-is-no-object home now being built for an African prince, reported to have four wives but known to have three jet aircraft.
Over the years, PGI has seen some rough weather, financially and otherwise, Hurricane Donna nearly wiped out the canal network being built in 1960. Now dredging restrictions and new state and federal laws have cut down on new lot development.
The company men have hunkered down, ridden out some of the blows, thought up new ideas for lot improvements. The green belt concept was developed to take the place of water - now grassy meadows, tree clusters and mini-parks separate homes from their neighbors. Condominiums and other multi-dwelling units offer docking facilities.
People from many parts of the country live here, play here and work here. All wear their yachting caps, fishing caps, golfing caps or tennis hats with equal ease. "Retirement is impossible . . . good living is daily, said one convert.
An active community association keeps things humming. Neighborhood spirit runs high. At Christmas it lights up the sky. The traditional lighting of homes, docks, boats and waterways brings boaters from around the harbor to view the spectacular. Next year the chairman of the board, Al Johns, will have to buy more blue lights to add to the 5000 it now takes to edge the roof, walls, windows, arches and seawall of his Spanish-style stucco home at the entrance to a canal at Punta Gorda.