Babcock RanchAn architect’s rendering of Babcock Ranch, the solar-powered city planned east of Fort Myers.Kitson and PartnersFlorida developer and former NFL lineman Syd Kitson sent out a coy press release Wednesday promising the biggest news in the history of press releases, to be revealed Thursday. And in truth … it’s sort of a big deal.

The housing collapse be damned, Kitson & Partners announces it will build a planned city near Fort Meyers with 19,500 homes, offices, retail shops, and light industry. Its electricity will come from the world’s largest solar voltaic power plant, a $300 million, 75-megawatt plant to be built on-site by Florida Power & Light. That’s nearly twice as large as the current largest plant in Germany, says Time magazine.

The planned city—Babcock Ranch—will include a smart grid to let residents monitor and adjust their energy consumptions. More than half of its 17,000 acres will be permanently protected as greenways and open space, according to the Miami Herald.

I’ve been hearing something went wrong with the economy lately, plus maybe something about the housing market. Does Kitson know about this?

“Some people think I got hit in the head a few too many times,” he told Time. “But I still believe deeply in Florida. And the time has come for something completely different.”

Reports the Herald: “Kitson said all of the plans are contingent on the real-estate economy recovering, but he believes the green aspects of the project will entice many who will bypass traditional developments now in foreclosure.”

Construction for the solar plant could begin later this year, depending on approvals. Groundbreaking for the city center could begin next year.

“Solar is just the first step,” Kitson told reporters yesterday, according to Greenwire. “Babcock Ranch will be a true living laboratory of the new-energy economy … where innovative companies can design, build and use the renewable and efficient technologies that customers across the country and around the globe will need.”

Much more back at the ranch, er, the ranch’s glitzy website. And it’s worth comparing to Abu Dhabi’s self-contained Masdar City.

Babcock RanchThe green, green roofs proposed for Babcock Ranch.Kitson and PartnersThe Herald has more backstory:

[Kitson bought] the 90,000-acre Babcock Ranch in 2006 — an area five times the size of Manhattan.

After lengthy negotiations, he arranged to sell 73,000 acres to the state for about $350 million for what has become the Babcock Ranch Preserve, a permanent open space. He then worked with Charlotte County to develop the remaining 17,000 acres…

The Sierra Club’s Florida chapter fought Kitson earlier plans, but was won over by the current incarnation. “We were thrilled,” Florida staff director Frank Jackalone told the Herald.  “It provides a model for the country — a high benchmark for others to try to reach.”