Ave Maria, Florida owes a lot of its existence to Dominos Pizza, the huge franchise operation that promises to deliver your hot pizza within 30 minutes.
The founder of Dominos, Tom Monaghan, was the leader of the effort that brought this beautiful new town into existence seemingly almost overnight.
Ave Maria is a planned town near Immokalee, Florida about 25 miles east of Naples.
The community was established in 2005 by a partnership of Barron Collier Companies and the Ave Maria Foundation.
The foundation was led by Tom Monaghan, who reportedly invested $250 million in the new town and its university.
The principal institution of the new town is Ave Maria University.
Mr. Monaghan served as its first president until he stepped down in 2011. This is a private Catholic university that was formerly in Ypsilanti, Michigan until it closed in 2007.
Ave Maria School of Law is an accredited american Bar Association law school, and has a current enrollment of 375 students.
Ave Maria University today has more than 1,000 students and was recently ranked one of the Top Ten Colleges in Florida by USA Today.
Monaghan's vision is for the school to have more than 5,000 students one day and have athletic teams in the NCAA Division 1.
Can you imagine a time in the future when the Ave Maria football team takes on Notre Dame or Brigham Young?
What a religious war!
The university, law school and surrounding residential communities are arranged around the carefully planned town center of Ave Maria.
The focal point of the town center is the Ave Maria Oratory, a large steel framed structure that serves as both church and university chapel.
The Oratory was inspired by a Tom Monaghan sketch that captured his long time interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The initial development of the residential communities around Ave Maria was slowed down by the real estate crash of 2008 and beyond, but more homes are being built and the downtown can be an interesting and busy little place.
There is one upscale restaurant, a pizza place, a coffee shop and a small number of other establishments.
There is no Dominos Pizza in Ave Maria. The nearest one is in Naples.
The downtown around the Oratory has been designed with apartments and condominiums above the shops so that residents can enjoy a walkable lifestyle. If I were a professor at Ave Maria University, I'd think one of these homes would be a great place to live.
AVE MARIA RESTAURANTS
The Pub & Grille At Ave Maria, 5068 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, FL 34142. Tel: 239-867-4235.
Gino's Trattoria Per Tutti, 5080 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, FL 34142. Tel: 239-658-5314.
Ave Maria is still a small town with only a few restaurants. Nearby Immokalee has several restaurants including some really good Mexican ones. The town is only 7 miles away on the back roads.
AVE MARIA HOTELS
Your best bet is to book a hotel in Naples, about 23 miles west of Ave Maria. Here is one suggestion:
Hampton Inn I-75 Naples, 2630 Northbrooke Plaza Drive, Naples, FL 34119. Tel: 239-596-1299.