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PALM HARBOR, FL-Golf Trust of America Inc. has sold the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club to entities of Middleburg, VA-based Salamander Hospitality LLC for $35 million. GTA has been in the process of liquidating its golf club assets since 2001, and this is its largest and second-to-last remaining property.

Sheila Johnson, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, founded Salamander in 2005. The hospitality company has since added the Market Salamander working chef’s markets in Middleburg and Palm Beach, FL, and the Woodland Resort in Charleston, SC to the Salamander portfolio. It is currently developing the 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg.

Johnson calls Innisbrook “a well-respected resort with a history of being among the finest in Florida for outstanding golf and meetings.” In a statement, she says, “Our goal is to elevate this unique resort and golf club to its rightful place as one of America’s most sought after destinations.”

The 900-acre resort at 36750 US Hwy. 19N boasts four championship golf courses, 1,200 residential condos and a host of amenities, including 65,000 sf of conference space, a tennis center and three clubhouses. According to SEC documents, the Innisbrook price tag also includes “certain liabilities,” which Prem Devadas, Salamander’s president, tells GlobeSt.com, “are a couple of future payments aggregating $1.5 million to the Innisbrook homeowners’ association.”

Aware that the owner of 7.6% of stock in GTA had written to the SEC arguing that Salamander’s $35-million offer was not in the best interest of shareholders, Devadas says, “at the end of the day, the trust considered it a fair price. The resort needs complete renovation, and we’re prepared to do that.”

The resort is 34 years old and all of the condos are privately owned. Some are occupied year-round and other owners participate in a rental pool, which will be operated by Salamander. Of the renovation, Devadas says, “we plan to spend millions,” and the details and budget will be formulated over the next 60 days.

“It will include improvements to all of the golf courses, all amenities, the conference space and clubhouses along with the addition of a spa,” according to Devadas. Work began on the day the transaction was completed with the close of the Island golf course, “to make the layout even better by reconstructing and lengthening several holes,” he says and puts the cost of this project alone at close to $1.3 million. It will re-open in October.

Regarding the sale, W. Bradley Blair, president and CEO of GTA, says in a statement, “Over the last couple of years, the company’s board of directors has evaluated numerous options on the question of selling, joint venturing or recapitalizing the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club and concluded that it was in the best interest of the shareholders…to pursue the sale of the resort to Sheila Johnson’s Salamander organization. Salamander’s access to capital for required capital improvements will be instrumental in achieving a grand vision for the…[resort] consistent with its rich history.”Charleston, SC-based GTA currently owns the Country Club of Wildewood and Woodcreek in Elgin, SC and an interest in real estate adjacent to Innisbrook. A call to Blair was not returned by deadline.

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