It just might be golf and hospitality’s best-kept secret.
The Streamsong Resort sits on 16,000 acres of land in South Central Florida between Tampa and Orlando. Its 216-room luxury hotel includes a lakeside infinity pool, outdoor fire pits, lounges, meeting space, sporting clays, guided bass fishing, three sophisticated restaurants, and a European grotto-style spa. Surrounding it are hiking trails and two 18-hole golf courses that have earned top industry rankings in less than two years. Basically, it’s a paradise—and it all sits atop reclaimed land once mined for crop nutrients.
The visionary process of turning the land into a stunning resort is the brainchild of the Mosaic Company, a multinational Fortune 500 company that mines phosphate and potash to produce crop nutrients. State and federal requirements mandate that the Mosaic Company and other businesses that mine land for such resources must then return their mined-out sites to their former condition or make them usable for some other purpose, and usually the businesses do so by creating upland, wetlands, and natural topography. The Mosaic Company’s vision for Streamsong, though, was reclamation through economic development.
Since resorts aren’t the mining company’s core business, it hired longtime real estate developer Drew Locher as the project’s director of design and construction. “We were trying to showcase the full potential of reclaimed land projects,” Locher says, adding that the resort will add to the local economy and tax base while generating jobs for years to come. “Mining is only a temporary land use, and Streamsong is the future. It’s a great business model.”
Locher has helmed dozens of high-profile projects and hotel developments throughout his career but says that the core group behind Streamsong made the four years he spent on the resort unforgettable. Albert Alfonso of Alfonso Architects; Jeremy Voss of PCL Construction Services; golf course designers Tom Doak, Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw; and other principals pushed themselves and each other to create a world-class product. “This resort represents a huge paradigm shift in the industry as everyone moves towards integrated product delivery,” Voss says.
“When everyone truly collaborates through all phases of a project, the owner sees more value because waste and mistakes are reduced,” Locher says. “I learned early in my career from one of the best HR people in the business that you ‘hire the best, pay them very well, and sit back and watch them knock your socks off,’ and I have followed that advice my entire career. The results are better for everyone involved.”
The Mosaic Company truly did hire the best of the best. After 33 general contractors expressed interest, Locher met with all of them. “It was during a major downturn in the industry, and everyone was hungry for work,” he says. “If you had a license and were qualified, we interviewed you.” He created a list of nine qualified contractors based on relevant experience, financial strength, safety protocols, and professional references. Then, he narrowed the list to seven before going to bid with five major regional players. He interviewed three finalists a second time before hiring PCL on Christmas Eve of 2012.
Voss, PCL’s project manager for Streamsong, says it was his company’s team approach that helped it win the job. “We knew that Streamsong could be something special,” he says. “We saw this as a true partnership and came in with an open-book strategy. We worked and played together. It was family. It was an amazing experience—the kind that you hope each job will turn into.”
PCL and the project’s other stakeholders ended up forming a strong bond despite heavy rainfall and the challenge of tackling complicated, large-scale technical work at a remote location. Locher recalls several instances in which the general contractor, architect, or another key player stepped in to assist a colleague. When the general contractor found flaws in the resort’s exposed architectural concrete, for example, the architect found tiling to put over it. When a gunite manufacturer said it couldn’t use a material out of the water, the Streamsong team tested mock-ups for two years and eventually created the massive, striking gunite columns that anchor Streamsong’s AcquaPietra spa. And, for the minimalist, 40,000-square-foot clubhouse cantilevering over the property’s lake, crews used hollow-core planks, cast-in-place concrete, structural steel, metal framing, wood framing, drilled piling, and vibro-compaction piling to anchor the structure.
“We weren’t competing with each other; we were working together toward the same dream, each giving in when needed,” Locher says. He compares the end of the four-year job to graduating from college: he was excited to be finished but sad to see the amazing experience come to an end.
Alfonso, Streamsong’s lead architect, is well known for his work at Tampa International Airport, the University of South Florida, and Tampa Covenant Church. He first strolled the resort property alone before bringing his vision to life with watercolors. (An accomplished painter, he’s had his work displayed in galleries, at festivals, and in the Church of San Francesco in Cortona, Italy.)
Since the Mosaic Company wanted to showcase the land, Alfonso designed Streamsong’s main building to represent a tree, naturally fallen on a bank. He specified heavy stones for the bottom floor of the six-story building, and the materials get lighter with each subsequent level. Light streams in through blinds that mimic the experience of looking thorough tree branches, and an oculus cut from the roof of the resort’s lounge pulls in evening starlight. Alfonso’s “tree” is capped with a canopy and Fragmentary Blue, a rooftop restaurant.
Locher, who is now managing the ongoing expansion of Streamsong, including the addition of a third golf course, says his experience at the resort has taught him a lot about the capacity and motivation people have within. “If you take a small group of talented and dedicated people and give them what they need to succeed, you can do anything in this industry,” he says. “People have amazing capacity if you know how to extract it. It’s like a race-car driver: anyone can push the pedal down and go fast, but you need to know when to let off the gas once in a while. Each member of the team is motivated in a different manner, and you need to personally know your people to get the very best out of them.”
Streamsong opened to the public in early 2013, and so far its hotel and golf courses have won accolades from USA Today, Golf Digest, Trip Advisor, the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and many others. With Locher and his team remaining hard at work on additional development, the resort won’t be a secret for long.