“Find a way” epitomized the 1993-1994 University of Florida basketball team as it progressed to the Final Four, thriving on teamwork in mounting one comeback win after another.
Finding a way has guided team member Svein Dyrkolbotn in his quest for most of the past decade to create a unique place: Celebration Pointe, what he describes as the first truly live, work and play community in Alachua County’s recent history.
Dyrkolbotn credits his experience at UF, both as a civil engineering major and a basketball player, with preparing him to overcome hurdles as he planned Celebration Pointe.
“In civil engineering, you learn to work hard,” he said. “In basketball, you get a sense of what works in playing on a team.”
That was particularly true of the Final Four team.
“We had a team where everyone bought into teamwork,” Dyrkolbotn said. “Another year, that didn’t happen, and we didn’t do so well.”
The 6-foot-8-inch Dyrkolbotn, known in his playing days as “The Norwegian Collegian,” was also influenced by Bergen, Norway, where he grew up before coming to Oak Hall School to develop his basketball skills. The Scandinavian city was ahead of Alachua County in supporting development practices to minimize traffic impacts through mixed uses and mass transit.
“Bergen is surrounded by many mountains, and you drive in a valley,” Dyrkolbotn said. “Over the years, as the county’s policies were being developed, I went home every year.
“I got a good view of what works and what doesn’t work. In downtown Bergen, they just installed new rail, they eliminated a bunch of parking spaces, and they have a good rail and bus system.”
Dyrkolbotn originally was involved in traditional development, based on the influence of Ronnie Davis, the founder of Davis & Sons Construction Companies (now Davis Companies) in Newberry.
Davis and his family hosted Dyrkolbotn when he came to Oak Hall, and he suggested Dyrkolbotn get his degree in civil engineering.
Dyrkolbotn worked for Davis during summer breaks from college and after graduation, helping build apartment projects across the southeast.
Davis died in 2004, and Dyrkolbotn created his own development business that built 280 condos and apartments in Gainesville.
“We had a recipe to presell the units that was relatively easy to step into,” he said.
Dyrkolbotn was looking for a bigger project, so he found the land west of Interstate 75 and north of Archer Road that would become Celebration Pointe.
Dyrkolbotn went to county growth management officials to check on the land’s development potential.
The existing zoning would allow 700 housing units, noted Jonathan Paul, who was then the county’s concurrency and impact fee manager.
County officials had a suggestion: Why not build a transit-oriented development under new policies the county was developing?
“Since he had grown up in Norway, which has much higher population densities than the U.S. and more transit, he was willing to try something new,” said Paul, who now is the director of planning for Dyrkolbotn’s firm, Viking Companies.
Under the higher densities that Celebration Pointe is allowed, its build-out will include 400,000 square feet of space devoted to retail, restaurants and entertainment, 350,000 square feet of office space, the Hotel Indigo and 1,000 housing units. The project will be anchored by Bass Pro Shops and a 10-screen luxury reserved-seating Regal theater.
The idea of creating a development that promoted public transportation also appealed to Mable Barnes, the owner of much of the land that is becoming Celebration Pointe.
Barnes, who died in 2010 at the age of 93, worked for attorney Joe Jenkins until her retirement in the late ‘70s, and she invested in property at his urging.
“She used to take the bus to work every single day,” Dyrkolbotn said. “She actually was a user of the transit system.”
Barnes’ support of Dyrkolbotn’s vision was crucial. She allowed him to extend his option on the land through a development process that took much longer than expected due to the challenges of permitting and attracting occupants during the recession.
“Mable realized that this project was going to be a long haul,” said longtime Gainesville real estate attorney Chic Holden, who originally represented Barnes and now represents Dyrkolbotn.
“It’s pretty amazing that she put money away each payday to buy the land,” he said. “She shared Svein’s vision, and Celebration Pointe could not have been possible without her.”
For Celebration Pointe to succeed, it needed to attract major anchors.
Dyrkolbotn needed teammates to help do that, and his ties to UF helped. He met developers James Izzo of the 1220 Group of Miami and Ralph Conti of RaCo Real Estate Advisors LLC of Atlanta, both of whom sit on UF’s Real Estate Advisory Board and have taught at UF’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies.
Conti helped attract Bass Pro Shops, which announced in May 2014 that it would become the first business destined for Celebration Pointe.
Landing the retailer was a major accomplishment because of the company’s huge draw.
“Bass Pro Shops, one of the most prolific and well-respected retailers in the country, has an expansive customer reach, and they will be a magnet for the project, drawing customers from well beyond 60 miles away,” Dyrkolbotn said.
The Bass Pro Shops company will also build an Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill, a family-oriented combination of restaurant and bowling alley.
“We are very pleased to be off to a great start with the likes of Bass Pro and a first-to-market luxury-seating Regal theater,” Dyrkolbotn said. “We will be making many more tenant announcements when appropriate.”
The Hotel Indigo will be in keeping with Dyrkolbotn’s vision of creating a community that is unique but clearly tied to the community, said Wayne Whatley, a longtime hotel developer and manager who leads the hotel’s team.
The hotel’s artwork will feature the historic Haile Plantation and Alachua Lake, which existed for about 15 years after Paynes Prairie filled with water in 1871.
“We plan to tell stories on the walls about the livestock and the steamboats on the lake,” Whatley said. “We will have an interesting visual aspect not found in most hotels. There will be a ‘wow’ factor.”
Jim McClave and Tom Rothrock got interested in Celebration Pointe when they were looking for a new home for Info Tech, the Gainesville-based software and consulting company they founded in 1977.
“Svein is someone I quickly felt I wanted to do business with,” McClave said. “He’s the real deal.”
Dyrkolbotn is pleased about Info Tech joining Celebration Pointe.
“It’s very exciting that they want their employees to enjoy the setting,” he said. “They’re very involved with the community and charities. That’s what this project is all about — to give back to the community.”
Dyrkolbotn is humble about what he’s accomplished with Celebration Pointe.
“It’s been an interesting, long road,” he said. “It’s exciting to have come this far, but it’s still a big undertaking that we’re still putting together, so we weren’t relaxing.”
Holden, the real estate attorney, applauds Dyrkolbotn for his collaborative style and perseverance.
“Celebration Pointe is going to change attitudes about mixed-used developments with high densities, something the county has been working on for more than a decade,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the community — creating new places to work, shop and live, while adding substantially to the tax base.
“Svein is a person who is not only interested in doing something he will benefit from, but he also wants to create a real jewel for the community.”