COURTESY : Tampa Tribune
HERITAGE ISLES - Less than a year into its management contract, Dempsey Resort Management is in a similar position to its predecessors: trying to explain mounting losses in this New Tampa golf course community.
Dempsey, which runs Pasco's Saddlebrook Resort, brought in its executive team to turn around Heritage Isles. The group came onboard in summer 2007 after community leaders fired the two previous management companies.
Food and beverage director Pat Caccio said the team arrives at each monthly community development district meeting worried that it will be its last. For general manager Rich Thiele, it was. He resigned this week.
Shaun McCormick, Saddlebrook's director of golf marketing, will take over full time at Heritage Isles, effective Monday2/25.
With the restaurant and banquet business still operating at a loss, homeowner Mary Martin submitted 40 ideas to generate more revenue.
"Our restaurant looks like a fire hall in Buffalo, N.Y.," she said. "We need a better atmosphere. Hello, have you ever heard of a dimmer? Lower the lights. Bring in some real plants."
She wants to host local church groups, fashion shows, garden clubs and sports fans. Snowbirds could play bingo, mommy-and-me play groups could reserve the pool, and would-be chefs could sign up for cooking lessons.
Caccio said he has been working closely with the homeowners. "There's not a bad idea on the list," he said. "We've hit every demographic."
District supervisors were divided on whether to give Caccio the go-ahead to try some of the marketing ideas.
"Pick the top five and give it a shot," Jack Meehan said.
But CDD Chairman Steve Stark was pessimistic and said homeowners are tired of seeing their tax bills go up to subsidize a failing restaurant and golf club. "Every event needs to make money," Stark said.
Caccio said he wanted to buy televisions and order TV sports programming for the bar, but the CDD board slashed those items from the budget.
Dempsey Executive Vice President Greg Riehle grew exasperated, noting that Stark never wanted to hire Dempsey in the first place. "We inherited this acrimony. We didn't create it," he said. "From the minute we've come in here, we've been brow-beaten."
He said the CDD board did immeasurable damage to the business in 2006 when it fired the previous management company and allowed residents to run the place for seven months. He pleaded for more patience. "Over time, we'll build a community that really loves this place," he said.
The board hired a golf course consultant to evaluate the golf operation. Golf rounds are up at Heritage Isles, but revenue is down because Dempsey slashed its fees.
National Golf Foundation, based in Jupiter, also was the original design consultant for the course. Chief consultant Richard Singer said the job would take six to eight weeks and would cost $28,000.
The consultant's report is necessary for Heritage Isles to attempt to restructure its debt. The district's lawyer told the board that if it cannot renegotiate with its bondholders, it will default on the bonds in less than two years.