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Living large

For Matt Geiger, who plays for the 76ers, home is now where the 270,000-gallon pool is. When finished, his house will be the largest in Pinellas.

It is hard to say what is most impressive about Matt Geiger's new estate.

Perhaps the plans for the professional basketball player's 26,000-square-foot mansion, which would be the biggest home ever built in Pinellas County.

It could be the 4,158-square-foot guest house. Or the 270,000-gallon swimming pool complete with a water slide, three diving boards and a spa.

Then again, maybe it's the little things. The massage room. The master suite fireplace that's big enough to stand in. The shower designed to look like a waterfall.

How about all of the above?

"It's going to be top-of-the-line all the way around," said Alan Eliassen of Port Richey, design consultant for the $5-million project. "It was fun from the aspect that I didn't really have to be concerned with budget. It was, "How nice can we make it?' "

Geiger's new compound, rising behind an ornate, gated entrance, is attracting plenty of attention in North Pinellas and in the county's building department, where it is affectionately known as "the monster."

Drivers along Keystone Road have been known to gawk at the awesome project. A few even have wandered onto the 100-acre property, only to be politely turned away by Geiger's 24-hour security force.

Geiger, a graduate of Clearwater's Countryside High School who signed a six-year, $52-million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers last year, is not the first famous athlete to build a home in Pinellas County.

Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan lives in an 18,000-square-foot mansion in Belleair modeled after a French chateau. Dwight Gooden, who just agreed to pitch for the Houston Astros, owns a 13,500-square-foot home in southern St. Petersburg. And Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield has just decided to sell his home of two years, an 11,000-square-foot house in Pinellas Point.

But Geiger's home sets a record for size in Pinellas.

"It's going to be definitely the largest. I don't have a home that comes anything close to that," said Joan Nix, director of the north county branch of the Property Appraiser's Office. "I'm sure it's going to be a really grand showplace. But I wouldn't want to pay their electric bill."

Construction crews, led by Geiger's uncle Fred Geiger, a general contractor, have finished the guest house and the pool area and are just beginning to build the main house, which should take another 18 months to complete.

Geiger, 30, spent much of his off-season planning the home, planting trees on the property with his father, Dick, and even helping install the roof on the guest house, his uncle said. He could not be reached for comment.

In his 30 years as a general contractor, Fred Geiger said, he has built plenty of big homes. But this is his biggest project.

"I did it because of the scope of the work and the challenge of the thing. It's one-of-a-kind," he said. "The fun part really has been seeing it evolve as Matt comes up with new ideas and we all start talking."

The main house is sure to be one of Tampa Bay's grandest structures. Its first floor will be a virtual recreation wonderland with a media room and theater, a billiard and game room, a bar, a DJ booth, a dance floor and a climate-controlled garage that can be used for basketball practice.

Plans also call for a smoking room with a walk-in humidor, a wine cellar, a spa, a steam room and a massage area.

"I don't put in too many spaces dedicated just for massages. I should live like that," said Eliassen. "I don't, by the way."

The second and third floors will feature six bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a two-story library, numerous fireplaces and a kitchen that would make Martha Stewart hand over her first-born.

The master bath will have a shower that looks like a waterfall and a tub made of artificial rocks so it resembles a pond. A separate shower will provide exotic shower heads for a massage effect.

The bathroom also will feature a television, a fireplace and a live palm tree. A saltwater aquarium will separate the bathroom from the master bedroom.

"It's not the biggest bathroom I've ever done, but it's certainly the nicest," Eliassen said.

The house will have two more large aquariums, including a shark tank, Eliassen said.

Ten- and 12-foot ceilings will give the 7-foot-1 Geiger plenty of head room. And "smart lighting," an innovation that allows him to light a path between any two points in the house at the push of a button, ought to keep him from bumping into things in the middle of the night.

Wood floors, 22-foot mahogany doors, marble staircases, granite counter tops and iron balustrades round out the decorative touches.

And the guest house, completed in September, is far from shabby. Visible from Keystone Road, it offers almost 4,200 square feet of living space and another 6,500 square feet for balconies and the 18-car garage, according to plans at the county building department.

The swimming pool is a favorite among those working on the project. Surrounded by artificial stone, palm trees and fiber optics that change the color of the water at night, the place resembles something out of an amusement park.

A water slide offers a 14{-foot drop. A cavern, complete with faux stalactites and stalagmites, provides a shady place to take a dip. Divers can choose among low, high and really high boards. And a spa sits atop a fake volcano.

"The idea was to create a pool scene visible from the rear porch that sets almost a theatrical, dramatic view out of the back of the house," said Eliassen.

"That's right out of Disney World," said East Lake Fire Lt. Bill Edling, who has watched the progress at the estate from Station 58 across the street. "He spared no expense on anything. Everything's first-class."

The outdoor kitchen includes equipment from Outback Steakhouse, making it easy for the chain to cater pool parties at Geiger's home.

His 100-acre property _ Pinellas' largest individually owned residential tract, according to county officials _ also gives him room to entertain guests without annoying neighbors.

Geiger ran into trouble last year at his former East Lake condominium when the Eagles Reserve Homeowners Association sued him, saying he disturbed his neighbors with loud parties. One neighbor went so far as to record 31 times and dates that he heard music, singing, talking or shouting coming from Geiger's condo.

Several residents came to his aid, saying Geiger was a terrific neighbor who just liked to have a little fun. The association dropped the suit in the summer after Geiger agreed to tone it down.

In his new home, Geiger is surrounded by the Brooker Creek Preserve and the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Complex. He has about a dozen neighbors to the east, each living on 2- and 3-acre properties.

Shirley Muller and her neighbors have been eyeing the construction from their homes along Old Keystone Road.

"It's really kind of interesting to watch it go up," said Muller, whose son occasionally played basketball with Geiger in high school. "You keep wondering what are they going to do next."

Her grandchildren are dying to walk over and try out Geiger's outdoor basketball hoop, Muller said. And, she admits, she is a bit curious herself.

"I hope he has a block party," Muller said. "I just hope Matt lets us all get a peek. And if not, oh well. Maybe we'll see him on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

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