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Nudist resort's success prompts expansion plans

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Florida, the state where Paradise Lakes nudist resort has made millions, can no longer contain the ambitions of the resort's owners.

One of North America's most successful nudist operations, Paradise wants to reproduce its success by opening resorts as far afield as California and Las Vegas.

One resort owner, Pinellas County real estate broker Joseph Lettelleir, wants to expand immediately, provided he can find an established out-of-state nudist park ripe for an upgrade.

"I would prefer to take an existing park . . . and sort of bring our management style into the community," Lettelleir said.

And he wants those communities to be sufficiently comfortable with the presence of naked flesh, making it easier to get the liquor license a new resort requires.

"I'm not interested in fighting in the back yard of someone who doesn't want it there," Lettelleir said.

New York City native Fred Bischoff opened Paradise southwest of U.S. 41 and State Road 54 in Pasco County in the early 1980s.

Bucking the trailers-at-the-end-of-a-dirt-road image of nudist parks, Bischoff nurtured an upscale Club Med-style atmosphere.

The resort has 450 permanent residents, 6,200 members and 90 employees.

Yearly visitors to the complex, which offers water sports, a Key West-style bar and restaurant, number about 75,000. Growth continues with the construction of 71 condominiums.

In 1999, after announcing plans to open a youth camp near Ocala, Bischoff sold his controlling stake in the resort to Lettelleir and his partners, who are non-nudists.

With nudity more profitable than high-tech stocks, Lettelleir wants to spread his wings beyond Florida. The owners sent resort manager Deb Simpson on a prospecting tour of about 10 nudist clubs that might consider selling to Paradise.

Lettelleir would maintain ownership of any new resorts rather than franchise the Paradise brand to independent operators.

Owners are confident customers exist for future Paradise clones. Lettelleir points to a Carnival Cruise for nudists that embarked from Florida in February with 1,480 passengers.

Said Lettelleir: "I don't think there's any secret that the industry is going mainstream."

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