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For Don Wallace, this is the big one

THONOTOSASSA

Twenty miles away from would-be gawkers and the hubbub surrounding Derek Jeter's Davis Islands digs, a sprawling, castle-like structure is taking shape on the edge of Lake Thonotosassa.

A gate partially shields the view of a vast lawn that leads to the beige stone exterior of the third-largest mansion in the county. It will be home to Lazy Days' R.V. Center founder Don Wallace and his family.

The posh features of this 27,008-foot behemoth, detailed in building plans, are enough to make McMansions blush in shame.

Two pools? Check. Sauna and steam rooms? Uh-huh. An elevator? Of course. And don't forget the bar, billiard room and bowling alley.

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams

Plans for this mega-mansion sound like an episode of VH1's The Fabulous Life or the classic Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Now, channel your inner Robin Leach.

When the rich and famous move to the country for more space, they really know how to use it. Drawings show plans for a croquet lawn and baseball diamond.

When Wallace and his wife, Erika, want to relax, they can head down to their basement to visit the massage room, or for a little activity, they can hit the gym.

Outside, the couple can dip their toes into one of their pools or grill steaks at their outdoor kitchen. Nearby, giant garages will shelter the Wallaces' extensive luxury car collection.

The first floor features plenty of room for them to entertain. There will be a game room, men's lounge, his-and-hers offices and a parlor.

On the second floor, they'll have a master bedroom the size of a small apartment. And forget his-and-hers sinks. The Wallaces have plans for his-and-hers bathrooms.

Moving on up

The Wallaces' 13,033-square-foot Mediterranean-style home on Bayshore Boulevard doesn't compare to the estate being constructed at 12321 Fort King Highway.

It promises to be Tampa Bay's very own Hearst Castle.

With 27,008 square feet of heated space (about 40,000 total), it will be the third-largest home in the county, excluding Jeter's Davis Island home, which the county Property Appraiser's Office hasn't measured yet.

The largest home is gold dealer Mark Yaffe's Avila mansion, at 28,295 square feet, and the second-largest, at 22,898 square feet and also in Avila, belongs to former corporate raider Paul Bilzerian.

We'd love to know the price tag on the Wallaces' new digs, but the Property Appraiser's Office hasn't assessed it.

Their current home

The Wallaces' home on Bayshore Boulevard dwarfs all others on the street, and it's the county's fourth-largest home. It's valued at $7.5 million (it was $8.5 million just a year ago).

Controversy swirled in 1997 when Don Wallace tore down the historic Swann House to make room for the mansion, much to the chagrin of neighbors.

The house made headlines again in 2009 when records showed Wallace was the biggest water user in 2008 in the Tampa Bay area. He used more than 6 million gallons of water at his Bayshore home, enough to fill the average backyard swimming pool every day for a year.

Why move?

Wallace didn't respond to interview requests left with a family spokesman. But in a 2008 interview with the Times, he said that he and his wife wanted a home with plenty of space for their young children to play.

"They can get on a boat and water ski, ride motorcycles and go-carts and four-wheelers, and play ball and ride a horse and watch a cat be born," he said.

He estimated that construction would likely continue for another 2 1/2 to three years.

Can he afford it?

Well, we don't know. But the Wallaces sure are rich.

Don Wallace and his family started Lazy Days in 1976 with $500, a mobile home and two travel trailers. It grew to a company with annual sales of $800 million, and its 126-acre complex in Seffner became the largest single-site RV center in the country.

The recession hit the business hard. The company laid off more than 200 employees. In September, the company, led by chief executive officer John Horton, struck a deal with bondholders to eliminate its $137 million debt through a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. It filed in early November.

Wallace sold portions of the business in 1999 and 2004 but remains a primary stockholder. Bankruptcy filings show that he's one of four entities that own 10 percent or more of the company's equity.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

For Don Wallace, this is the big one 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 9:10pm]
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