Pat Neal joins Builders Give Back program in Lakewood Ranch

Article by Jay Heater, Observer, April 11, 2024

Pat Neal is a developer and a politician.

That’s not exactly what many people in this area would consider a resume for knighthood.

It is unfair in many cases, but nonetheless it is the perception.

If you were making a list, and developer and politician were on top, you might not scroll down farther to see the next listing.

Philanthropist.

But there it is, and in Neal’s case, it should be in capital letters, and in bold type.

His detractors might argue that he has become rich off those living in this region. Sure, that’s true. He produced a quality product, and made a fortune.

That doesn’t mean he has to give some of it away. Many don’t.

Neal even could be described as a soft touch when it comes to charity. That belies his reputation as a tough businessman. But it is nonetheless accurate.

The latest example came last week when the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation announced that Neal Communities and Neal Signature Homes has joined the foundation’s Builders Give Back program. Through the program, builders make a $100 donation upon closing to the foundation in the name of the home buyer.

The Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation benefits by both the monetary contributions and through an indirect introduction to a new resident of the community. The hope is that those new residents will contact the foundation to find out more about the community’s many nonprofits and how to support them.

The program launched in May 2023 with Anchor Builders, AR Homes, Homes By Towne, John Cannon Homes, Lee Wetherington Homes, Pulte Homes, and Stock Luxury Homes combining to form a solid base. Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s Lakewood Ranch Communities donates a matching $100 per closing to the foundation up to $10,000 annually.

It is an interesting coalition since the builders are competitors. It is a case of rising above.

Neal didn’t need to add one more philanthropic effort to his collection plate, but he said the Builders Give Back program is a natural for him.

“I’ve been building homes in Lakewood Ranch since it began in 1994,” Neal said.

In 2000, he was impressed with former SMR CEO John Clarke, who founded the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund (it changed to the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation in January). Clarke wanted the new community to have a “giving component.”

“John Clarke was a very big ‘community’ guy,” said Neal, who was awarded the LWRCF’s C. John A. Clarke Humanitarian Award in 2007.

“So I’ve been active with (the LWRCF) since John Clarke founded it. Every time they have asked, I have given them money. I’ve always made a commitment to this community.”

And now he has notched another level of commitment with the LWRCF.

“Our builders understand that the lifestyle in Lakewood Ranch is unique, and they are supporting that by participating in Builders Give Back,” said Adrienne Bookhamer, who is executive director of the LWRCF. “There is no better way to thank new residents than by contributing to the community and helping the LWRCF make an impact here.”

The LWRCF defines its mission as “to enhance the quality of life in and near the Lakewood Ranch community by responding to local needs, granting funds, and building lasting relationships.”

Neal isn’t alone in his charitable endeavors. The Pat and Charlene Neal Foundation has gifted millions to causes in the region, including $1 million to Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County in 2021. Neal Communities’ Plan for Giving expects to gift more than $500,000 in 2024, after giving out $300,000 in 2023.

Over the past decade, he, his wife, and their companies have contributed more than $8 million in support of community organizations. He is hoping others contribute as well as the area, and its needs, will grow.

Neal said Lakewood Ranch eventually “will dominate” Manatee County in population, so it needs to continue to build community infrastructure. He said the LWRCF could play a key role in the community’s development.

“The Community Foundation will be important for the things they do and the people they inspire,” Neal said.

He said the Builders Give Back program will help to spread the LWRCF’s outreach to every new community member.

“We are thankful to be a part of it,” he said. “We want to be a part of everything Lakewood Ranch and everything builder.”

Bookhamer notes the LWRCF has room for more builders to join the Builders Give Back program. More information can be found at LWRFund.org.

When those developers and builders do sign up for the program, they, too, might be carrying that villain’s label, or perhaps they might even be a politician. It would serve you well, though, to take another look.

I have seen Neal from different angles. He can be forceful as a businessman, but his philanthropic side can be charming.

I have personally witnessed the charming side. Since 1999, Neal Communities has hosted its My Favorite Home art contest at an elementary school in the region. Last year’s event was held at Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota. At 75, Neal could be forgiven if he just wrote a check and mailed it in. But each year, he shows up to interact with the kids.

They don’t judge him by titles.

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