In 1947, Sidney Colen visited the area to see his parents while on his way to South America. He met a woman in Tampa named Ina; they married and started a family. Rather than continue his pan-American journey, Sidney decided to stay in Florida, where his family partnership opened new residential doors for thousands of Florida families and retirees.
Colen arrived at a transitional time. St. Petersburg’s streetcar line had ceased operations in May 1949. Undeveloped lands in northwestern St. Petersburg beckoned people who embraced the postwar car culture. Another newcomer, James Rosati, moved to Florida in 1948. In November 1950, city leaders blessed Rosati’s plan to launch Tyrone Gardens, St. Petersburg’s first new subdivision since the Great Depression. This development included the same-named shopping center at Tyrone Boulevard and Ninth Avenue, the first large retail establishment away from downtown.
A Family Affair
As Rosati’s Tyrone Gardens took shape, Sidney Colen won approval to develop nearby areas. He named some of these communities after his two young daughters (Merna, Sheryl, and Leslee). During the early 1950s, crews turned scrub into Leslee Heights, Merna Manor, Merna Park and Sheryl Manor.
Colen met some prospective homeowners who wanted city amenities, but without higher city tax rates. Familiar with the cow pastures in the largely undeveloped Lealman area between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park, he filed paperwork in January 1955 to establish the Kenneth Corporation, named for his young son. At that time, 58th Street north of 38th Avenue narrowed into a pedestrian dirt path. Unable to reach an agreement with St. Petersburg for water service, Colen hired crews to dig wells and bury water and sewer lines in his Kenneth City development before they built the first model homes.
Unincorporated (at the time) Kenneth City appealed to middle-income families who preferred lower property taxes. Colen worked with Herman W. Goldner – a St. Pete attorney – to draft the charter for this proposed town. Ironically, years after helping Colen create this separate municipality, Goldner served as St. Petersburg’s mayor from 1961 to 1967 and 1971 to 1973.
Lawmakers passed the bill to create Kenneth City on April 30, 1957. At the time, this one-square-mile community had 300 homes and approximately 1,000 residents. Colen, Goldner and more than 450 residents gathered at St. Petersburg’s Coliseum in mid-June to celebrate the new town. At this event, young Kenneth unveiled a rendering of the proposed town hall and community center.
A few months after the Sept. 20 groundbreaking, residents celebrated their town hall’s dedication on Jan. 5, 1958. As Kenneth City grew, Colen also filled an important need for people his parents’ age: He created Clearview Oaks, a place that required less maintenance than a standalone home, yet offered more amenities than most apartments.
When Colen designed Clearview Oaks in November 1958, he developed one of the first condominiums in Florida. He opened these units along 58th Street near Joe’s Creek to offer comfortable accommodations for senior citizens.
Classes began at Dixie Hollins Comprehensive High School (now Hollins High), adjacent to the town, in September 1959. Three months later, Kenneth City Plaza opened on the southwest corner of 54th Avenue at 58th Street North. The county assumed responsibility for Kenneth City’s water and sewer systems in 1964.
Villages Before The Villages
Today, many Floridians think of The Villages in Sumter, Lake and Marion counties if asked to identify a sprawling senior community. Long before The Villages existed, however, Sidney Colen designed large-scale settlements that catered to active adults and retirees.
During the late 1960s, Colen acquired more than 400 acres in Clearwater for his On Top of the World adult community. Soon, groves near its internationally-themed buildings became businesses and residential subdivisions, such as the Countryside area that Clearwater annexed in the early 1970s.
Colen acquired the Circle Square Ranch southwest of Ocala in 1975. At over 12,800 acres, his family has sufficient land to develop well into the 21st century. The Colens created a separate On Top of the World 55+ community on this Marion County property. To date, they have developed only a fraction of Circle Square Ranch.
Sidney Colen passed away in 2009 at the age of 90. Ina passed away a decade later, at 94. Although no longer directly involved in Kenneth City, the Colen family manages the two On Top of the World communities, as well as other holdings that cater to both families with children and retirees.
Kenneth currently serves as president of these enterprises. Although Kenneth does not live in the town named for him, this municipality and the condos in Kenneth’s “cities” at Clearwater and Ocala vividly illustrate the Colen family’s role in transforming Florida since World War II.