Villa am Meer, Chapter 13


University Commons… the beginning of the end

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

Back in Chapter 1, my very first blog post, I started with a list of questions I wanted to know about “my house” on Longboat Key. Who built it? How long had it been there? Who owned it? And finally, why had it fallen into such a state of disrepair? Over the past several months, I’ve answered all but the last one. Today, I’ll do my best to answer that question as well.

Throughout the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, the Kohl-Benedict family had a good run. They built a family fortune that started with perfume. They ventured into real estate. Dairy farms. Thoroughbred race horses. Tropicana orange juice. Private islands. And something about parrots…? I never did get to the bottom of that one.

Indeed, it was a lavish lifestyle… private schools, country clubs, debutante balls, luxury Manhattan apartments, corporate parties at the Rainbow Room, and beach parties at Villa am Meer (attended by the occasional celebrity).

Things clipped along until 1985, the year Hermann Kohl’s company, Norda, Inc., was acquired by Unilever, a huge Anglo-Dutch food and fragrance company dually-based out of the UK and the Netherlands. If you think you’ve never heard of Unilever, think again. Think Lipton, Hellman’s, Dove, and Axe.

When the deal was done, the question, I’m sure, was what to do with this latest windfall. How could the family invest their wealth to guarantee a sustained income for future generations of “Dukes and Benedicts?”

The answer, it seems, was a Sarasota retirement community offering sequential care for the elderly. Enter University Commons, “a 256-acre nursing/retirement home complex covering 567,800 square feet, with golf course, resort hotel, and office space.”

It was to be built on land purchased by Hermann Kohl in 1931, north of University Parkway, at the intersection of Tuttle Avenue. It was such a large undertaking, the project was deemed a “DRI,” or Development of Regional Impact. After all, as late as 1982, University Parkway was still unpaved, and referred to simply as “County Line Road.”

All that changed by October of 1992, when University Parkway was converted from a two lane road to a six-lane superhighway that connected I-75 with the international airport and two other major U.S. highways (301 and 41) between Sarasota and Bradenton. In all, seven DRIs were planned for the five mile corridor along University Parkway.

It certainly seemed like a good idea. After all, during the 90s, millions of aging baby boomers were busy stuffing money into their IRAs and making plans to move to Florida in droves. Yes, everything would be coming up roses for the Benedicts for a very long time, assuming all went well with the University Commons project.

All did not go well.

I have no idea what went wrong with the project, but the property tax records for 8104 Tuttle Avenue tell some of the story. On August 2, 1994, the University Commons property was sold to Unicom Nursing Care for $900,000. Unicom was another corporation owned by the Benedicts. This company was incorporated on July 31, 1994 in the state of Florida, but was based out of Edison, New Jersey. Two years later, on December 31, 1996, the property was sold for $1 to OIDC, Inc., a land subdivision and real estate credit company based out of Greenwich, Connecticut. One year later, OIDC sold the property for $541,900 to Life Care Health Resources, Inc.

The Life Care Center of Sarasota was completed in February of 2000 with 120 beds and a staff of 180. It was no longer a development owned by the Benedict family, but instead by Life Care Centers of America, a company that operates more than 200 skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement living communities, home care services, and Alzheimer’s centers throughout the U.S.

To be sure, the Benedicts must have spent millions of dollars in plans and permits for the University Commons development, only to lose it all in bankruptcy. It appears to have been the beginning of the end for the Benedict fortune. One by one, other properties were foreclosed upon, including Villa am Meer, the Tilly Foster Farm, and eventually, Elena’s home in Purchase, New York.

Sigh. I wish there was a better ending to my story.

Next time… the Florida Master Site File and a few final thoughts.

Read Chapter 14


Growth Traps Homeowners,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, February 21, 1994

Assisted Living Company Plans 248 Acre Retirement Community,” Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 2, 1997

Manatee County Property Search


  1. It is really hard to belive what a wonderful job you have done on the background of Villa am Meer and the Benedict family. My wife and I were long time friends of Elena Benedict and Ralph Smith. Spent nice times at Villa am Meer in the South/West bedroom listing to waters of the Gulf.

    Ralph Smith was my best man at my wedding. Miss him.


  2. Joy, what a wonderful job you’ve done with the history of the Benedicts. I worked at Tilly Foster Farm from 1985 until 1999. Last 5 years as manager. I had heard bits and pieces of this story but never as in depth as your blog tells it. Mrs. Kohl had a nickname of Tonta or something like that and she was the one with the parrots. In the attic of the one of the barns were several large ornate bird cages.
    To Ann that left a post: I remember The Roodeye very well and her mother Singwara. The Roodeye was by Rare Brick, and she was tough but sweet.

  3. Monika Wehofsich |

    Joy, please contact me! Herta was my grandfather’s sister and I have a lot of information and would like to communicate with you urgently. Would like to come on 7 March.

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