Southwest Florida's Premier Real Estate Company

Lehigh Acres

welcomelehighacres.jpgLehigh Acres got its start in the mid 1950s when Chicago businessman Lee Ratner needed a tax shelter. He had sold his pest control business, and he faced the possibility of losing most of his earnings to the high capital gains tax of that era. Ratner heard that cattle was a good investment for people in his predicament, and he bought 18,000 acres (73 km²) of land in eastern Lee County and named it the Lucky Lee Ranch. After ranching for a while, and despite having no prior development experience, Ratner joined with Gerald H. Gould, a Florida advertising executive, Manuel Riskin, a Chicago CPA, and Edward Shapiro, a former Chicagoan who was in the real estate business in California, and began land sales at Lehigh Acres.

Gerald Gould was the president of the corporation that developed Lehigh Acres which began in business in 1954. He remained as president until the company was sold in 1972.

Since the days of the Lucky Lee Ranch, the boundaries of Lehigh Acres have stretched to cover 61,000 acres (250 km2), to include the runways of the former Buckingham Army Airfield, a major Army Air Forces training base that was closed at the end of World War II. The pasture land where Ratner's cattle roamed and the since broken up runways where military flight crews trained has been divided into some 152,000 quarter acre (1,000 m²) and half-acre (2,000 m²) lots for housing, along over eleven thousand miles of roads. Strips of land along major thoroughfares, such as Homestead Road and Lee Boulevard, were set aside for commerce. In 1997, nearly 90% of Lehigh Acres' lots remained vacant.

In 1992, Lee County, with the cooperation of a new developer, declared Lehigh Acres to be blighted, which authorized its Community Redevelopment Agency to take steps towards improving infrastructure and planning elements neglected by the original developer. It is estimated that nearly $11 million would be needed to repave the developments roads.

A surge in housing prices led to a boom in Lehigh Acres new-housing construction from 2003 to 2007, peaking at more than 7,500 new homes constructed in 2006. The number of homes built during this period exceeded the total number of homes constructed during the preceding 50 years.

But as in much of the United States, the real-estate boom of the 2000s went bust. The median house price in the Ft. Myers area peaked in late 2005 at $322,300. Three years later, it had plummeted to $106,900. A reliance on construction jobs no longer available pushed the unemployment rate in the area of Lehigh Acres and Fort Myers to 14% by the summer of 2009. Property values in Lehigh Acres dropped 25% in 2008, and another 50% in 2009.

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