Resort gets its finances back on track

Saddlebrook, the county's top tourism earner, pocketed $1.8-million in 2006.

Published May 4, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - In fall 2004, when Saddlebrook Resorts was wading through some red ink, owner Tom Dempsey struck a hopeful note.

"Corporate America is spending less money since Sept. 11, " he said at the time. "But it's gradually coming back."

And come back it has.

The 450-acre Wesley Chapel resort, Pasco's largest tourism earner, posted a net income gain of $1.8-million on revenues of $43-million, in its annual report filed last month with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

That's a 50 percent profit gain from the previous year.

It is still a ways from the golf and tennis resort's profit numbers in the late 1990s, which nearly reached $6-million, but no small comfort after recession and terrorism in 2001 broke Saddlebrook's 12-year growth streak.

"We've just been going straight up, " Dempsey said Thursday.

The lowest point came in 2003, when the resort dipped into the red.

Even a $3-million profit the following year was largely the result of a legal settlement with a former insurance carrier. Without that infusion, the resort essentially broke even.

Dempsey said the slow years were mostly the result of high depreciation, which cut into Saddlebrook's earnings report.

"We still had a lot of cash flow, " he said.

The current set of figures are tweaked slightly from previous annual reports, because the resort was told last year to adjust the way it reported membership fees, one category of its earnings. The change did not affect the trend of Saddlebrook's performance.

As an industry, Pasco tourism appears to be headed for a good year. Bed tax collections reached an eight-year high in January.

Saddlebrook, just east of the Interstate 75 exit on State Road 54, has a tennis academy that attracts stars such as Mardy Fish, James Blake, Justine Henin and Andy Roddick. Jennifer Capriati has a home in the resort. Brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, one of the top-ranked doubles teams, live in nearby Seven Oaks and train at Saddlebrook.

The resort employs 744 people, according to its latest annual report.

Dempsey's next big project is a $7.9-million national tennis center to be built next door. Drawing from its tourism fund, the county is picking up the tab.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at 813 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.