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Pasco gives Miami developer the go-ahead for resort redevelopment

The developer will build a town center with hundreds of apartments, retail and town homes at Saddlebrook Resort, as well as renovate existing features.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. July 19, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Pasco County commissioners approved the redevelopment plans for the Saddlebrook Resort on Tuesday.
Pasco County commissioners approved the redevelopment plans for the Saddlebrook Resort on Tuesday.
Courtesy rendering
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Pasco County Commissioners approved a redevelopment plan July 11 for the iconic Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel — despite concerns from some residents about required renovations to their units.

The redevelopment will bring apartments, town homes and retail and office space inside a proposed town center and elsewhere on the property. The project also calls for a major update to the resort’s facilities.

Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning to allow the redevelopment after a more than two-hour meeting that often focused on the minutiae that goes into a project of this size but also tackled more common issues like providing cart paths so as not to disturb golfers during construction.

According to one presentation, Mast Capital, which bought the 480-acre resort last year for $15 million, is investing at least $53 million into the project. Given the immensity of the development, though, it is likely that the amount will be far higher. Mast did not disclose financial details but said work is expected to begin late next year. .

Saddlebrook opened in 1981 and includes 500 hotel rooms-condominiums, 45 tennis courts, six pickleball courts, two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. It also has several cafes and restaurants, a full-size driving range, large resort-style swimming pool, a spa, tennis and golf pro-shops, nature reserve, as well as classroom space and student dormitories for Saddlebrook Prep, the onsite tennis academy.

The plan calls for a new town center to be built that will include 465 rental apartments, 25 town houses, 75,000 square feet of retail and office space and a pedestrian promenade. Mast also plans to build a 120-unit town home community and 25,000 square feet of commercial space within the property.

The Miami developer, in a statement, says that along with the new features it plans to invest “millions of dollars in capital improvements” to the existing resort. That part of the project will include modernizing the resort’s lobby, food and beverage areas, rooms and meeting spaces. It also calls for upgrades to the swimming pools and clubhouse, as well as transforming the golf courses to create a 27-hole layout.

Infrastructure improvements will include building a new road and wider lanes to make it easier to access the property while also easing congestion.

Mast, in the statement, says that since buying the property in March 2022 it has invested in repairs and upgrades, including adding the pickleball courts. It has also relocated the hotel gym, replaced all of the buildings’ roofs and added a new fleet of vehicles at the property.

While the vote was unanimous and residents who spoke ahead of the vote for the most part said they were happy with the path forward, there were some concerns. These came mostly from condominium owners who are frustrated they have to pay for mandated renovations out of their own pockets. One resident says residents have been told the collective cost of the renovation will be $50 million, up from $25 million.

The feeling is that they have to fully pay for their renovations while Mast will get all the benefits from a project that it can, one resident says, sell anytime it wants.

Mast currently owns 75 of the units in question, county officials say.

At one point during the meeting, County Commision Chairman Jack Mariano asked staff if it could make Mast change its plans and allow those with deep pockets to begin work right away rather than waiting on the timeline and triggers the developer has set.

Mariano was quickly rejected by other commissioners, who argued they were there for a rezoning — not to impose conditions on an individual business.

“Is that our place?” Kathryn Starkey, who represents District 3, asked, telling Mariano that it was a cash flow issue and it wasn’t the county’s place to interfere. “I just don’t understand the invasion of someone’s business,” she said.

The one thing all involved, even the ones who expressed frustrations, agreed on was that the resort needed the improvements to regain its foothold as a destination and the plan in place would eventually elevate all the interested parties.

“I don't want to get involved in the massive operation of how they're going to handle those units,” said commission vice chairman Ron Oakley. 

“The fact of it is, it’s to the benefit of the citizens, the residents and Mast to make this project the best project they can make it. Because they can't turn $1 outside of there until they put it the way it should be. And I think what you're going to find is a very well built Saddlebrook, that's a modern age Saddlebrook. That's different from the one that was in the 80s. And you’re going to see that thrive in the new economy we have now.”

The Saddlebrook Resort was first developed by Thomas L. Dempsey, who was then chairman and CEO of Penton Publishing, a subsidiary of the Pittway Corp., after Pittway bought the 480 acres in 1979.

According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Saddlebrook Resorts Inc. was incorporated June 20, 1979 to buy an existing golf course and tennis club in Pasco and develop it into a condominium resort and residential homes project. Dempsey and his family bought the project in November 1988 and owned it until last year.

Saddlebrook Prep opened in 1992 and became the training ground for some of America's top tennis players, including Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jennifer Capriati and Jim Courier.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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