On a recent weekday morning, Dr. Kiran Patel sat in a small construction trailer poring over plans for what will be the largest home in Hillsborough County.
Already, it is impossible to miss for anyone driving on N Dale Mabry Highway near the overpass at Busch Boulevard. Off to the east it sits, a 32,000-square-foot palace with Mughal-style arches, pinked-hued columns and massive wings flanking a domed great hall.
More than three years after construction began, the basic structure is almost complete. Walls are being framed, ductwork is going in. On this day, Patel is meeting with the owner of an Arizona company about glass for the curved, 22-foot floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on White Trout Lake.
"I think we are picking up the momentum," says the 66-year-old cardiologist and philanthropist.
Huge though it is — about 14 times the size of the average American home — the house is meant to be a regular cozy family dwelling. Patel and his wife, pediatrician Palavvi Patel, will have one wing, and his son, daughter-in-law and their children will take the other. Each multibedroom wing has its own entrance, but both families will share a kitchen and, Patel hopes, many meals.
A few hundred feet away, concrete blocks mark the future sites of two smaller — though still large — homes. Those will be for the Patels' two daughters, also physicians, and their families.
"Everybody will be close enough when you want to see them but far enough if you don't want to see them, including the grandchildren," Patel joked.
Then, more seriously: "I am very fortunate that all my children decided to stay in Tampa, which is unusual in this day and age. More importantly, they were willing to stay together for 50 to 80 years. For the family to spend time that long in one location is priceless."
Patel himself traversed much of the globe in his younger days. Born of Indian parents, he grew up in Zambia, studied in Britain and went to medical school in India, where he met his wife. They finished their training in the New York area and moved to Tampa in 1982, drawn by Patel's brother, who ran a motel on Busch Boulevard.
Patel, a savvy entrepreneur, began buying up the practices of other physicians and organized them into a multispecialty network with more than 8,000 patients. In 1992, he bought WellCare, a small health maintenance organization that exploded in size when Florida began requiring Medicaid patients to enroll in HMOs. In 2002, he sold it for a reported $200 million.
The Patels are generous with their wealth. Among their donations have been $26 million to the University of South Florida; $5 million for a conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts; and $3 million for a research institute at Florida Hospital Tampa. They've built hospitals in India and Zambia.
"I prioritized," Patel said. "My philanthropy came first, then I focused on myself."
In 2003, Patel bought the property off Dale Mabry in Carrollwood. In many ways it is a peculiar location for what will be one of the most opulent homes in the entire bay area. The grand entrance faces the Dale Mabry overpass and is within earshot of traffic rushing past strip shopping centers and fast-food restaurants. On the other side of the 10-foot wall surrounding Patel's land are far more modest homes and apartments.
Still, the compound is convenient to just about everything and is close to the Patels' current home.
"I wanted somewhere where I didn't have to go five, 10, 15 miles to really get a property of this size," he said. "It's almost 17 acres of land in the heart of Tampa. To get that was a stroke of luck."
Patel paid $3.2 million for the land but demurs when asked what he expects the entire project to cost. "Less than my philanthropy," he says.
With the exception of sandstone imported from India, almost all of the materials and labor in the compound are from local sources. Already completed is the imposing pink guard house with its three ornate archways. Along the wall facing Dale Mabry is a line of cypress trees, among the 65 trees planted by friends on Patel's 65th birthday.
"It's a unique concept," he said. "Each tree will be labeled with my friend's name and for generations to come all will be able to see it.''
A sandy road winds past a guesthouse, nearly finished, and on to the enormous main home. It will be entered by a broad stairway leading into the 15,300-square-foot great hall, with stairways on either side continuing on to second-floor balconies. The 8,400-square-foot wings that the Patels and their son's family will occupy each has its own courtyard.
The overall effect is that of a palace in the Mughal style, a blend of Persian, Islamic and Indian architecture that reached its aesthetic height with construction of the Taj Mahal in the mid 1600s.
"But once you walk in, it will be very modern, very American, very functional," Patel said. When all three homes are complete, he added, "each (family) can live in a place that's comfortable for them."
Although Patel plunged back into the HMO business after selling WellCare — he is now president of Freedom Health/Optimum Healthcare — he is visiting the construction site more often now that the main house is up but many finishing details remain.
His "unrealistic goal," as he puts it, is to see the three houses ready by January — the scheduled opening of the 450-room Wyndham Grand Resort he is building on Clearwater Beach.
His ultimate goal is having three generations finally living together in one place.
"Without family, there is nothing. When you come on this earth, your assets really are your family."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.