By B.C. Manion
When delegates for the Republican National Convention (RNC) arrive at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, they’ll be among the first guests to enjoy the fruits of an ongoing renovation.
Resort staff will extend their usual brand of hospitality to the delegates from Texas and Louisiana, but guests may notice one element that is distinctly different from the hotel’s usual operations.
Security will be tight.
“When you’re talking about security, there’s only a few events in the world that get this type of attention,” said Patrick Ciaccio, general manager for Saddlebrook, the only Pasco County hotel selected by the RNC to be a convention hotel.
Ciaccio puts the RNC, which is in downtown Tampa Aug. 27 through 30, in the same realm as the Democratic National Convention, the Olympics and the Presidential Inauguration in terms of the magnitude of security precautions. That’s because delegates and high-ranking officials will be in one place.
The resort has received visits from homeland security, the Secret Service, the Florida Division of Law Enforcement and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Ciaccio said. Those law enforcement personnel haven’t said what they’ve been up to — and that’s precisely how it should be, Ciaccio said.
Saddlebrook is expecting about 1,000 delegates to stay at the resort, which is completely sold out from Aug. 25 until the end of the month.
Safety is just one priority. Comfort is another.
The 31-year-old resort already had been in the process of a major upgrade before Saddlebrook staff learned they’d be a convention hotel. Rooms already have been refurbished and exterior renovations were in the works, but when the resort found out it had been selected, staffers accelerated the timing of the exterior renovations.
“The porches, they were nice for their time, but they were big wood slats that you couldn’t see through,” Ciaccio said. The porch railings are being replaced by sleek, metal railings, which create a more modern feel and offer an open view.
The resort is installing brick paver walkways leading to its suites. They’ve added new landscaping and installed park benches and new patio furniture.
The idea is to create the feeling of a mini-park within the resort’s courtyards, Ciaccio said.
“We’re bringing a more comfortable feel to the exterior,” Ciaccio said, noting the renovations are not yet complete, so the total costs are not known.
Most of the renovations will be finished before the delegates arrive, but the entire project won’t be finished, Ciaccio said. Unlike many hotels, which have several stories, Saddlebrook has many small buildings, which are situated around the resort’s golf course and other amenities.
The resort is honored to be among the RNC hotels, Ciaccio said.
It won’t be pulling out the stops for the event, though, because it strives to deliver high quality service to every guest who stays at Saddlebrook, Ciaccio said.
He thinks the delegates will be pleased by the hotel’s amenities.
Besides playing golf or tennis, guests can ride bikes, take a dip in the super pool or relax in the spa. The hotel offers meals prepared by an old-school culinary staff who take great pride in butchering its own meats, baking its own breads, preparing its own cakes and pies and serving produce delivered to the resort three times a day, Ciaccio said.