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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 12, 2004 18 years ago

Next Round: The Founders Club

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After five years of designing and county review, The Founders Club is out of the ground. It's one of three ultra-pricey golf clubs opening out east.

Next Round: The Founders Club

After five years of designing and county review, The Founders Club is out of the ground. It's one of three ultra-pricey golf clubs opening out east.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

From a height of 200 feet, Jay Tallman and Tom Brown knew exactly what they wanted to do with the 700 acres. The year was 1999, and the owners of U.S. Assets Group, a luxury developer, were flying a chartered helicopter over Sarasota looking for real estate.

The property, located south of Fruitville Road and three miles east of Interstate 75, had all they were looking for. It was hundreds of acres of undeveloped land with easy access to two thoroughfares, and more important, it was in northern Sarasota. Five years and several million dollars later, Brown, Tallman and Fred Starling, a Sarasota commercial developer/contractor, watched as construction started on The Founders Club, a $300 million golf course and residential community.

"It's small and more intimate," Brown says. "It's where you don't need a tee time. Where the golf memberships stay under 300."

This market niche is present in Vero Beach, Palm Beach and Naples, Brown says. In Naples, there are about 25 clubs, with memberships ranging from $75,000 to $260,000, with more than 9,000 members. "And how many of these clubs does Sarasota have? "Zero," he says.

But transforming vacant land into a first-class 18-hole golf course surrounded by 262 home sites has proved an arduous and lengthy process.

At the time that Tallman and Brown first discovered the 700 acres that would become The Founders Club, the partners were busy developing the en Provence condominium development on Longboat Key. The two partners would also complete another condominium, the Beau Ciel in downtown Sarasota, and start the 54-unit Orchid Beach Club on Lido Key while The Founders Club property was being approved.

"After Jay and I identified the property," Brown says, "we mentioned to a local attorney, Steve Rees, that we were interested in doing a truly private golf club in Sarasota. He said, 'That's actually owned by a client of mine ... Ed Ansin (owner of the Miami-based Sunbeam Television Corp.)' (Rees) said, 'In fact there is a local commercial developer, Fred Starling, who has bought a lot of property from him lately.' "

So Tallman and Brown called Starling, president of Sarasota's The Starling Group, and asked if he would help them with an introduction to Ansin. "At the same time, Fred said he had an interest in seeing if maybe he could join in with us," Brown says. The two partners agreed.

"We all just seemed to fit together really well," Starling says of the partnership.

With Starling's help, the property was put under contract.

It was early on in the development process, when Tallman and Brown discovered that under the existing code, the property was zoned for only 86 residences. The project was not financially viable with that few home sites. Further investigation showed that under the county's land-use comprehensive plan, the property was designated to allow a maximum of 262 residential units. So a rezone of the property to Planned Urban Development, although time consuming and complex, was the only way to go.

"Obviously being the first of its kind in a while," Starling says, "it took some work. We worked as diligently as we could."

Brown says the three partners, who formed The Founder Club Development Co. LLC, tried through a number of concessions to make the development extremely attractive to the county.

"We set new standards in environmental design," Brown says. "This is really state of the art. We have additional treatment for any water run off. We paid special attention to wetlands and minimizing the impact on them. We implemented a WaterWise irrigation program using reuse water. We also minimized the use of pesticides. We left a large amount of open and natural space. We gave the county property for a (1.5 mile) bike trail. We gave them land on our western and southern boundary for a five-acre park. We even gave them a right of way for the future extension of Iona Road."

But aside from the incentives, the economics of the project meant that the county would gain nearly $2 million in property and school taxes yearly.

With all the approvals finally in place, The Founder Club developer purchased the property and started construction. The golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is set for completion toward the end of the year. The remainder of the development is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2005.

The 262 home sites have been divided up among John Cannon, Pruett Builders, Todd Johnston, Marc Rutenberg, Lee Wetherington, Taylor Woodrow and the developers themselves. Construction on the model homes will start in April. Homes prices will start at $600,000 including home sites. Starling's construction company, Fred M. Starling Inc., is building the 27,000-square-foot clubhouse, designed by Fleischman Garcia of Tampa, and additional maintenance and community recreation facilities.

The three partners plan to sell 275 golf memberships for $75,000 each, along with social and invitational memberships.

Asked about competition from The Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club course in Manatee County and The Concession, Brown says, "We are out there doing it already. We will be moving about 1.2 million cubic yards of earth. We have 173 homes sites sold right now. We intend to have the golf course ready for play by the end of this year. The entire development should be done early next year. It's just going to be a great project ... and it's in Sarasota near all of the other amenities."

The initial sales office for The Founders Club is located in the Gateway office complex at the northwest corner of Fruitville and Interstate 75.

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