Miami-based Mast Capital, the owner of Saddlebrook Resort, has received a stamp of approval from the Pasco County Commission to pursue an ambitious redevelopment plan of the property, off State Road 54, slightly over a mile east of Interstate 75.
During its glory days, Saddlebrook — often referred to as Wesley Chapel’s crown jewel — enjoyed an international reputation for excellence, and attracted luminaries from the worlds of professional golf and tennis to compete and train there.
Mast purchased the resort from its original owner Tom Dempsey, and after months of negotiations and compromises, received permission to pursue its plans to revitalize the resort.
In broad strokes, the redevelopment plan is divided into four areas.
Area 1 and Area 2 are outside of the original gated community.
- Area 1 includes 75,000 square feet of commercial retail/office, 465 multifamily units and 25 townhomes.
- Area 2 includes 25,000 square feet of commercial retail/office and 120 townhomes.
Area 3 and Area 4 are within the existing resort community.
- Area 3 includes tennis courts, parking, the renovation of the clubhouse and resort area.
- Area 4 calls for replacing two 18-hole Arnold Palmer courses with three nine-hole courses; and, the relocation of the driving range, which currently fronts State Road 54.
The developer also has committed to improvements aimed at handling the project’s traffic. It has agreed to build a road across a portion of its property that will link into Wiregrass Ranch Boulevard.
It also will add turn lanes at Saddlebrook’s main entrance and make a connection to Vandine Road.
A new gated access point for Saddlebrook residents and a multi-use path to provide Saddlebrook residents access to areas beyond the community’s gate also will be added.
Mast also has signed a deed restriction that guarantees that the golf course land will never be used for commercial or residential development.
A big part of the plan involves the overhaul of the resort itself.
Mast Capital will renovate the resort facilities, while both Mast and third-party condo hotel owners will upgrade the individual hotel rooms.
Mast will manage the hotel room renovations and third-party investors will have an opportunity to opt in. Mast and third-party investors will pay the same renovation cost per unit.
Initially, Mast’s plans faced a wall of resistance from Saddlebrook owners and residents.
But over time — after dozens of meetings — that opposition decreased.
Still, areas of disagreement did not entirely go away.
During the county board’s July 10 public hearings, Jane Graham, an attorney representing the Save Saddlebrook Coalition, cited continuing concerns about the conversion of 36 holes of golf to 27 holes.
She expressed appreciation for Mast’s decision to convert some of its planned townhomes into green space, but said concerns continue regarding the amount of pavement required for apartment parking.
Larry Barbetta, a founder of the Save Saddlebrook Coalition, called for greater sensitivity to the existing community to ensure compatibility and he again asked for a reduction, or shift, in density to help achieve that.
He also expressed appreciation for the quest to revitalize Saddlebrook.
“We’re all saddened by its current state. We all support Mast’s efforts to bring that back to what it should be. We want to help accelerate that,” Barbetta said.
Patrick Hogan, an advocate for retaining the two 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf courses, presented a plan that could keep those golf courses, while maintaining the driving range’s current location and making room for other improvements.
His idea, however, gained no traction.
Keith Swope, a resident of Saddlebrook since the 1980s, lamented the inevitable change he believes the redevelopment will bring to his daily life.
“It is a peaceful, quiet, lifestyle,” Swope said. “It looks like that’s going to be changed. It’s not going to be for the better.”
Hope Kennedy, president and CEO of the North Tampa Bay Chamber, however, advocated on behalf of Mast’s redevelopment plans.
“This is the type of project that communities around this country are dying for. They would be thrilled to have this kind of investment coming into their community,” Kennedy said, noting she represented the chamber board and the business organization’s 610 members.
“Saddlebrook literally put Wesley Chapel on the national and international map, and they have been a contributing force in tourism and commerce.
“As with any asset, it must be nurtured and constantly improved upon.
“For us to continue to prosper as a region, we must evolve. We, the chamber, applaud Mast Capital for their vision to improve the crown jewel of Wesley Chapel.
“They have gone above and beyond to ensure the legacy of Saddlebrook continues. We thank them for investing in our community,” Kennedy said.
County Commissioner Ron Oakley said it’s in the best interest of both Mast and Saddlebrook property owners for the redevelopment to succeed.
“You’re going to find 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 this new economy that we have now,” Oakley predicted.
He expects Mast to address traffic issues and to be expeditious in its redevelopment efforts.
“If they don’t take care of traffic and they can’t get people in and out of there, guess what, they’re not going to rent anything in there. It’s not going to happen,” he said.
Oakley added: “They can’t just lollygag around. They’ve got to go forward and get this thing done. If those units aren’t starting to be renovated in the hotel area, they’re not going to rent them because nobody is going to stay in there because they’re outdated.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she agrees with the sentiments expressed by chamber executive Kennedy. Like the chamber leader, Starkey said she appreciates Mast’s willingness to invest in Saddlebrook.
Commissioner Seth Weightman told Mast: “We’re putting our name behind you, right?”
“We all have high expectations. You’ve heard us loud and clear.
“Don’t let us down.
“Don’t let the folks that live there down,” Weightman said.
Published July 19, 2023