Villa Am Meer, Chapter 3

Benedict family sells estate in a profitable flip

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

After discovering the August 14, 2006 newspaper article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune (see Chapter 2), I felt I was finally getting somewhere. The article mentioned that a man named Dr. Kohl, an investor in Tropicana, had originally built the house in 1935. His daughter, Elena Kohl, married into the Benedict family, and that’s how the home came to be known as the Benedict Estate.

I tried Googling “Elena Kohl Benedict,” but that got me nowhere. So, I tried just “Elena Benedict” and found this story from the August 1, 2006 issue of the Sarasota Herald Tribune. It was printed two weeks prior to the earlier article I had found:

——

Longboat Key estate sold for $18 million
Tampa-based developers plan to build 30 townhomes on the Benedict property.

By Stephen Frater, Sarasota Herald Tribune

August 1, 2006 – The posh estate of a former flavor and fragrance magnate — and one of the last largely undeveloped bastions on Longboat Key — has been sold to a Tampa developer for $18 million.

Aerial photo of Villa Am Meer

The 5.2-acre Benedict property, once owned by the chairman of Norda, has been sold to Jason Woods, president of Statewide Associates, and his father, Arthur. The property has 350 feet of beach along the Gulf of Mexico.

One of Edward E. Benedict’s daughters, Elise B. Browne, bought the property — “Villa Am Meer” — from a family trust in January for just $5 million before tripling its price with the sale to a Tampa-based father-and- son development team.

Jason Woods, president of Statewide Associates, and his father, Arthur, plan to turn the 5.2 acres and 350 feet of beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico into a luxury gated community with 30 or so townhomes in several four-story buildings.

The property, with a long driveway spiking out from Gulf of Mexico Drive between the Villa di Lancia and the Islander Club to a 2,300-square-foot home and carriage house, had long been sought after by developers.

The estate at 2251 Gulf of Mexico Drive on the southern half of the barrier island is one of the last of the founding Longboat family estates to be developed.

The Benedict family had earlier sold off numerous acres to the south of the site — the source of the Villa di Lancia condo development’s name.

The $18 million works out to nearly $3.5 million per acre, or, considering that the zoning allows for up to 30 units, about $600,000 per unit.

The new development is to going to be the plural version of the Benedicts’ home, “Villas Am Meer.”

The deal is “great news as far as Longboat Key values are concerned,” said Debra Pitell, a longtime Michael Saunders & Co. real estate agent and a Longboat Key residential property specialist.

Re/Max Properties’ Marc Rasmussen agreed, noting that that there are 15 units pending for sale at $2.5 million or more on Longboat Key.

Although pricey, the deal is not the most ever paid on Longboat Key on a per-unit basis, Jason Woods said.

That distinction belongs to Positano and The Orchid, he said, referring to two other high-end Longboat Key multi-unit developments.

Positano’s cost averaged out at $720,000 for each of its 29 units while each of The Orchid Condominiums works out to $950,000. But on a per-acre basis, the Benedict property is the second-most expensive costing $3.46 million. The Orchid and Positano are $3.5 million and $2.1 million per acre, respectively.

With some of the property sold off before, only the home and carriage house remain on the property formerly owned by Edward E. Benedict, who was chairman of Norda Inc., a privately-owned flavor and fragrance company acquired by Unilever United States in 1985.

Benedict was 78 when he died in 1989 in Manhattan. The Boston native spent his entire career with Norda, becoming chairman in 1971, a post he retained until he retired in 1980.

A 1939 New York University graduate, Benedict was known in New York society circles as a breeder and owner of thoroughbreds and was the founding president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.

Benedict and his wife, Elena Duke, had six daughters: Browne and Patricia Benedict, both of Greenwich, Conn.; Diane Benedict, of Elbert, Colo.; Elena Benedict-Smith of Longboat Key; Celeste Pinelli of Manhattan; and Verna Neilson of Kinderhook, N.Y.

Browne’s deal for the family estate was a “direct buyer-seller transaction” — meaning no real estate agents were involved, said Woods, adding that he had known Browne, for “some time.”

Woods said that he and his father have completed about $100 million in developments during the past decade, including hospitality, retail and interior renovations for the St. Petersburg Times Forum in Tampa. The projects included Forum’s XO Club I, the XO Club II and the Budweiser Terrace.

Their Statewide Associates also has been involved with stadium-renovation construction projects, including work for the Florida Panthers, New York Yankees and Denver Broncos.
On the residential side, Statewide is selling units in a Tampa development called Brownstones of Soho.

The Woods have retained Michael Saunders & Co. as the exclusive listing agent for the town houses to be built at Villas Am Meer. They expect prices to range from $2.5 million to $4 million each.

Under that scenario, construction would start next summer with a two-year completion schedule, meaning it would be 2009 before buyers moved in, assuming everything goes as planned.

The property is limited by zoning to 6 units per acre so there will likely be as many as five four-story buildings on the property.

Stateside is meeting with Longboat Key town development officials next month to present preliminary elevations and design concepts.

Each building will have rooftop patios in a resort-style community. Woods says there will also be a communal “lagoon pool” on-site.

A remnant of the original Villa Am Meer will remain: The Benedict house, which stands on the property nearest the beach, will be renovated as a community clubhouse.

——

Ah, relief. Even though my house had been sold, the new owners planned on renovating it to be used as a clubhouse for the new development. Good news, but I still wanted to track down the members of the Benedict family to find out more about the history of the house, who built it, and what it was like to grow up on Longboat Key before the condos took over. I decided to keep digging.

And more good news… I was back on familiar territory. I had names. And with names, I could fire up the old genealogy engine. Ah, yes… familiar territory indeed. I poured myself a glass of wine, logged on to Ancestry.com and got straight to work.

Next time:

Condo project is a no-go, the history of Norda, Inc., and who the heck is Elena Amaducci?

Read Chapter 4…

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Villa Am Meer, Chapter 2

A few dead ends lead to an orange juice story

New here? Start with Chapter 1…

First things first. I wanted to know the history of my house, who built it, and who owned it.

So, one day when the rest of the gang had opted to go golfing, I stopped by the Longboat Key Library to check out their local books.

Sidebar.

Longboat Key Library

Longboat Key Library

The Longboat Key Library is located next to Town Hall and directly across from Publix grocery store. It’s not a public library, but a private non-profit organization, staffed and operated entirely by volunteers. It’s very small and supported solely by membership fees and donations (of both cash and books). According to their web site, “Not one cent is levied upon taxpayers by the Town or the County to support the library.”

My question is… why? Not to take anything away from the diligent and wonderful volunteers who run the library, but if a town like Longboat Key can’t get enough taxpayer support to fund a public library, then what’s this world coming to? But… I digress.

End sidebar.

I started combing through a few of their “Local Interest” books, including Calusas to Condominiums by Ralph Hunter, but I couldn’t find any information. I asked the ladies at the library if they knew anything about the property, but they weren’t familiar with it either. They referred me to the Historical Society down in Whitney Beach Plaza.

Longboat Key Historical SocietySo, a few days later, on a wet and rainy morning, I convinced my dad to come along with me to the LBK Historical Society to see if they knew anything about my house. When we arrived, no one was there, but we did find a flyer taped to the window with a phone number of the current board president – Tom Mayers. We called and talked briefly with him, but he wasn’t sure which property we were referring to. We went next door to “Steff’s Stuff” and chatted with her a bit, but she didn’t have any information for us either. She did mention though, that Tom Mayers had grown up on Longboat Key and lived at the historic “Land’s End” property, right before the bridge that takes you to Anna Maria Island. I filed that away for future reference and we went on our merry way.

Street entranceIt was at this point we realized an address would be helpful. So, we drove back toward the old ramshackle cottage, slowly passing condo after condo, looking for the street entrance to the old vintage estate. Of course, we knew it right away when we saw it… stone columns, iron gates, inlaid ceramic tiles. A perfect entrance designed to match the architecture of the house. We wrote down the address on the mailbox and headed to the LBK Town Hall.

They were very gracious and willing to help me at the Town Hall. After doing a few lookups on the computer, the woman there gave me the name and number of the current owner (“BBC Key LLC” out of Northbrook, Illinois). I hurried home and dialed the number, anxious to get some answers to my questions. But of course, as luck would have it, the number had been disconnected.

Bummer. Dead end.

Hmm… now, what would Bosley and the Angels do at a moment like this? Well of course. It was time to start Googling.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/14/2006

Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/14/2006

I went back to the resort, entered the address of the property, and voila! I came across a 2006 newspaper article from the Sarasota Herald Tribune that gave me a wealth of information and a ton of new leads.

The story gets really good from here… and a little mysterious. Here’s the full article:

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Lots of local history behind Benedict Estate on Longboat

By Stephen Frater, Sarasota Herald Tribune

August 14, 2006 – Two weeks ago, I reported that the former Benedict Estate on Longboat Key sold for $18 million to Tampa-based developers Statewide Associates.

The developer plans to build up to 30 town homes on the property.

More historical details have been unearthed about the property by Cindy Alegretto, the Herald-Tribune’s news research manager.

The once much-larger property originally was developed as a private estate by a Dr. Kohl in 1935.

In the 1940s, Kohl was said to have been one of the original invetors, along with Italian immigrant Anthony Rossi, in a Manatee County-based citrus business.

Kohl was said to have invested $7,500 for a 49 percent stake in the business, which grew to become one of the largest citrus businesses in the world, Tropicana Products Inc., now a unit of soda giant PepsiCo Inc.

One of Kohl’s daughters, Elena Kohl, married into the Benedict family, which is how the property came to be known as the Benedict estate.

A sharp eyed reader pointed out that the rusted estate’s gate columns still feature the letter “K” in a design motif that outlasted Dr. Kohl’s original Mediterranean villa on the site.

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Stay tuned… you’ll learn more about Dr. Kohl, the Benedicts, and the current status of the “Villas Am Meer” condo project…

Oh, and by the way, here’s a link to a large image of that rusted gate. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any K in the motif, even when I looked in real life. Let me know if you can find anything. Be patient, it’s a 2.32MB file, so it may take a while to load.

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Villa Am Meer, Chapter 1

It all started with a walk along the beach…

A stroll along the beach

For 15 years, our family has been visiting the beautiful barrier island of Longboat Key, Florida – just outside of Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico. This year, like every year, we found ourselves ambling along the beach and imagining what it would be like to live in one of those beautiful new oceanfront mansions that seem to keep cropping up. We marvel at the architecture and wonder who could possibly afford to live there, then we saunter along, hoping this is the week we finally hit all six numbers on Ross’s PowerBall ticket.

There is, however, this one ramshackle, weather beaten house that has continued to hold our interest for all of these 15 years. I call it “my house,” because I’ve always told my husband that I would buy it someday. Someday, when I write a bestseller, option a screenplay, or hit the PowerBall. Someday…

My house

I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on it, but something about this rundown, abandoned-looking house has always intrigued me. I stare at it and I wonder. Who built it? How long has it been there? Who owns it? Why has it fallen into such a state of disrepair?

It’s clear that it was beautiful once, with stained glass windows, hand-painted ceramic tiles, and a spiral iron staircase that leads to a rooftop patio. I can only imagine the resolve it’s taken for the family to stave off the condominium developers, encroaching from either side. Clearly, there is some nostalgia attached to this home. I can almost picture it in my head… images of days gone by… children enjoying long, lazy days on the beach, building sandcastles and collecting seashells… the grown-ups looking on, waving and laughing, sipping piña coladas from the patio.

Waiting for the wrecking ball?

This year though, things were different. The high rise condominiums just to the north were putting in a new concrete pier (groin) to prevent erosion of their rapidly diminishing beachfront. Large, heavy equipment was moving in and out of the property, and I worried that “my house” had finally been sold and was about to be torn down.

I panicked. I returned with my camera, anxious to preserve a bit of Longboat Key history before the wrecking ball did away with this vintage treasure and all its romantic charm. The problem is, photographing the house only caused me to fall more in love with it. I wanted to know more. Who lived here, who played here, who slept here? What was life like on Longboat Key, before the condominiums, before the Crackberry, before the chaos of our 21st century lives?

And so it began… my quest for answers. I will admit, I went a little bananas. For over a week now, I have put off things like laundry, housecleaning, and preparing my income taxes to delve into the history of this charming little beach house.

And to think it all started with a walk along the beach.

View the rest of my photos on Flickr…
(You’ll need to click the “Show Info” link in the upper right corner of the screen to view the captions.)

Oh, and stay tuned. We’ve only just begun.

Read Chapter 2

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