PALM HARBOR — A $25-million renovation project at Innisbrook Golf Resort and Club is on target to be nearly completed when NFL hordes descend on Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XLIII early next year.
And officials at the upscale community are confident that the improvements will score rave reviews.
"The Super Bowl is a great opportunity to shine in front of a lot of people who have never been to Tampa," said Chuck Pomerantz, Innisbrook's managing director. "We are completely sold out and a lot of the NFL owners are staying with us and we want to be in the best possible shape."
The improvements include a 12,000-square-foot spa and 4,000-square-foot fitness facility, new owner Sheila C. Johnson's signature gourmet market, Market Salamander, the first Market Salamander Grille and a centralized gathering village where registration and shopping can take place.
Pomerantz said 90 to 95 percent of the work will be done before fans start arriving the week leading up to the Feb. 1 game.
During the week of festivities, Innisbrook will host the NFL Charities Celebrity Golf Classic, which will attract nearly 70 current or former NFL players.
Nick Nicolosi, tournament director for NFL Charities, said he was at Innisbrook in June.
"I was very pleasantly surprised at the new team and what the new owner has been doing," Nicolosi said in a telephone interview from New York. "It's just a very nice, nice place and one of the few places that have multiple golf courses and that's one of our requirements."
In addition to hosting NFL Charities during Super Bowl weekend, the Franco Harris charity golf tournament will be held at the resort. Harris is an NFL Hall of Famer who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In July 2007, Johnson, a billionaire and co-founder of BET, bought the struggling Innisbrook resort and promised immediate changes to the 900-acre resort nestled in northern Pinellas County.
Johnson's Middleburg, Va., entity, Salamander Hospitality, bought Innisbrook for $35-million. There are four golf courses, one of them the site of the March 6-9 PGA Tour Transitions Tournament just six weeks after the Super Bowl weekend.
Johnson said Tuesday that she is in talks with Tiger Woods' camp in an effort to make the tournament the first one he plays in his comeback from the knee surgery he underwent after winning this year's U.S. Open.
"I'm very interested in making that happen," Johnson said.
Innisbrook consists of 620 guest suites and rooms, four restaurants and three bars, the Innisbrook Golf Institute, 11 tennis courts, fitness and racquetball center, six heated swimming pool complexes and a nature preserve.
"We are very, very fortunate to have someone of her ilk and caliber to have purchased the resort," said Dick Ferreira, 68, the one-time vice president and managing director of Innisbrook who still lives on the resort. "I just feel very fortunate as a longtime member and one of the original developers to see it fall in her hands."
Ferreira said the improvements can easily be seen.
"They are as obvious as they can be," he said. "It's a sight to behold."
Pomerantz said the goal is to give Innisbrook "a walking village feel."
"It's exciting," he said. "This is a new era for Innisbrook."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com Staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to his article.