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Co-founder of BET buys Innisbrook

The sale, for $35-million, likely won't affect the PGA stop there.

By Demorris A. Lee
Published June 27, 2007


PALM HARBOR - Three companies controlled by the billionaire co-founder of Black Entertainment Television have agreed to pay $35-million for the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

Sheila Crump Johnson's companies - Salamander Innisbrook Securities LLC, Salamander Innisbrook Condominium LLC and Salamander Innisbrook LLC - have made a $3-million, nonrefundable deposit on the deal.

The sale of the property, a well-known PGA tour stop with four championship golf courses, is expected to close July 16.

A PGA Tour PODS Championship official said Tuesday the deal isn't expected to interfere with the tour's contract to use Innisbrook's Copperhead course for the next five years.

"I hesitate to say anything because the sale is not official, but I wouldn't think this changes anything for us, " PODS tournament spokesman Rick Odioso said.

Salamander Hospitality president Prem Devadas declined to discuss the buyers' long-term plans for the property and said that Johnson was in London.

"We signed the purchase asset agreement, made a nonrefundable deposit and fully intend to buy it, " Devadas said from Salamander's Middleburg, Va., headquarters.

Current owner Golf Trust of America, a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Charleston, S.C., bought the facility in 2004.

Golf Trust has been working to liquidate its nationwide portfolio of golf courses.

Golf Trust president and CEO W. Bradley Blair II declined comment Tuesday, saying a confidentiality agreement prohibited him from discussing the deal.

The resort, located at 36750 U.S. 19 N, sits on a 1, 000-acre wooded lot with a 608-room hotel. Public records suggest Salamander may be getting a deal.

The Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office has valued Innisbrook's four parcels of buildings and land at more than $43-million.

Records also show Golf Trust paid Golf Host Resorts Inc. nearly $79-million for the property in July 2004, though that included a significant amount of debt. At the time, the buyer and the seller valued the property at $44.2-million.

In November 2005, a deal to purchase the resort for $45-million fell apart when potential buyers CMI Financial Network Inc. of Palm Harbor and RoBEL Investments LLC of Clearwater could not finalize the deal.

Johnson, who has been called the country's "first black female billionaire, " and former husband Robert L. Johnson founded BET in 1980 and sold the company to Viacom in 2000 for $3-billion. The two divorced in 2002.

Johnson owns interests in the NBA's Washington Wizards and NHL's Washington Capitals; she is president and managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics. Salamander Hospitality owns the Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, S.C., and the 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa being developed in Middleburg, Va.

Staff writer Rodney Page and Times news researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

What $35M can buy

Among the amenities at the Westin Innisbrook Resort:

- Four championship golf courses

- Six pools, including the Loch Ness, an outdoor splash pool with slides

- A 36-person spa

- 11 tennis courts, two racquetball courts and one wallyball court

- A children's rec center

- Three clubhouses, with restaurant and golf shop

- 65, 000-square-foot meeting space with three conference centers, a ballroom and meeting rooms

- A gated, private nature walk that weaves its way through this resort's wooded acres