History of Sarasota Lakes RV Resort




Welcome to the history of Sarasota Lakes RV Resort (SLRV).  We dedicate this material to the efforts of our board members and volunteers who have served over the years.  The accuracy of this history is due to their contributions that enabled us to put together what we think are some interesting facts, developments and improvements in our park.  

Sarasota Lakes is the result of dolomite mining, a mineral that is used for road building because of its calcium carbonate limestone content.  The mining carried on for years and included blasting, which was discontinued when residue found its way to the nearby dog track parking lot causing damage.  Subsequently, the mining stopped, the lakes formed and our name was born.  The lakes belong to the airport and we can no longer access them except to lean over the fence to watch the wildlife or cast a fishing line.  The original lakes were named Southwind, Northwind and Rainbow Lakes, of which only South and North Lakes remain after renaming. There is a small island that remains, called Bird Island, and it exists today as a wildlife lover’s observation point from shore.  The lakes go as deep as 65 feet.  Some may ask, do they contain any fish?  How about a 22 lb. catfish, a 12 lb. bass and, of course, alligators!

We believe SLRV began as WW II came into focus and there was mention of a small trailer park and campground close to the Air Force Training Base, located at what is now Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ).  The official business began in 1971 as "Holiday Inn Trav-L-Park”. A certificate of occupancy was issued in 1972 by Sarasota County.  The park consisted of 21 acres with 157 units and six original structures.  Each lot being approximately 1,800 square feet.  The reception, recreation and administration lodge was the first structure to be built.  A huge adult pool, wading pool and playground for kids were also proposed.  

The Holiday Trav-L-Park was sold to KOA of Sarasota, which operated until 1980. That year the KOA and surrounding area was sold to Thomas Holliman, the chief operating officer of Seago Group, Inc. of North Fort Myers, Florida and renamed it Sarasota Lakes Camping Resort. Prior to the sale, the county had made it know they were not in favor of any future RV park expansion. However, the county relented and said this was to be the last RV development in the county. Lots in Phase I were put up for sale in 1980. Lots 110, 126, and 127 were set up without units as models with a pad, patio, electric, etc. Some of the rental occupants bought their lots. The sales were handled by Resort Real Estate, Inc. and operated by brothers Bob and Steve Lord. They worked out of a building located next to the laundry, now known as Theresia’s Salon and laundromat. Before the sales began, this area was used as storage for trailer units. During this period tent camping was allowed in the area behind the office rec hall.  This is the present site of the horseshoe pits.

Desoto Road and the original lakes were the early perimeters of our park. Phase I originally had all dirt roads, no pads or patios, and campers parked on the grass and by the side of the road. Shale roads replaced the dirt and then all were blacktopped after the park was purchased by the Sarasota Lakes developer. After Phases II and III were completed, blacktopping was continued and the roads were completed.

The original office and rec building contained the rental check-in, lot assignments, mail distribution and convenience store with gift and grocery items.  The building had a library and hall facilities for group gatherings.  This contained a TV area, library, lounge, bingo room and kitchen.  Also, under the office building roof was a separate game room with vending, game machines and pool tables.  

Inside the Desoto Road entrance a dump station was added, as well as a pad for the residence of our park managers and their families. The park furnished a 40 foot trailer on the pad as part of their compensation package.  The unit was sold and removed in 1990.

With Phase I sales well underway, development started on the vacant land in II and III.  Phase II was slow in developing as the state and county were strictly enforcing building and environmental codes, especially for RV parks. During construction the retention pond at the rear corner near the Sarasota Herald-Tribune building and ditch lines were required by the EPA, county and state. The ditches encompass all of phases II and III and the retention pond acts as a filter before water flows into the lakes. 

Sales in Phase II started in 1982.  Each lot was approximately 2,500 square feet. They sold from $9,000 to $12,000 with a $500 reduction if the purchaser agreed to spend $500 on landscaping.  Each package included an 8' by 15' concrete patio which could be increased in size at an additional cost.  Comfort stations (bathhouses) were also built in Phase II and III.  After a lot was purchased, the owner was issued one share of the cooperative and a copy of the proprietary lease (leasehold interest) for their lot.


Phase III was finally completed and the Certificate of Occupancy was dated August 21, 1984.  The official park address was changed from Desoto Road to 1674 University Parkway.  Before the airport connector was built, University Parkway was called County Line Road or "Old 301”.  As recent as 1969, county line road east of 301 was a dirt two lane road!

Our exit and entrance were planned to go straight out to County Line Rd. (now University Parkway), however, part of this land was sold to the Herald Tribune.  It lies dormant today.  The county closed our Desoto Road gate in 1985 and University Parkway became the only way in or out of the park.  When the airport connector road was built in 1992, our University Road entrance was closed and Desoto reopened again.  University was opened again in December 1992 with a handsome new entrance, a traffic light and our sign replaced where it belonged. 

With II and III completed in 1984, our developer began a new venture.  In October of 1985 a convenience store was built and called Sarasota Lakes Country Store.  Our park store closed when this operation opened and they were allowed to handle the rental of our park lots from this store.  In September 1986 this agreement was terminated and we regained the lot rentals at our office.

In November 1985 combination lock mailboxes were installed inside the office area. These boxes were moved ten years later to the outside of the building when a new key system was put into effect. This made it convenient for park occupants to pick up mail after office hours.

In October 1995, our entire building was renovated. When it was completed in January of 1996, we had a new kitchen, rec room, flooring, walls and ceiling. The capacity of the rec room was raised to accommodate a total of 175 people in 2,400 square feet. 

To this day, Sarasota is synonymous with circus, in particular Ringling Brothers Circus. It permeates our arts and culture scene to this day.  Many different shows and performers who wintered here “off the road”, eventually retired in the area due to our glorious winter weather and proximity to circus headquarters.  Over the years, while wintering, many circus people stayed at Sarasota Lakes.  This allowed us to enjoy their entertainment art form.  In the 1970's there was a couple from England who lived in a caravan type circus wagon that was brightly painted.   There was also a female animal trainer with a Tiglon, which is a hybrid between a male tiger and a female lion.  The animal's name was Tonya and she was kept in a cage on lot 73 for all to see.  In the early '90's a flying act set up a trapeze rigging and practiced across from lots 191-194.  Suffice to say, we have had many, many diverse circus acts reside with us!  Other noteworthy residents were parents of celebrities, a former Rockette dancer, a former national league pitcher and medieval fair performers.

Throughout the years we have had over a dozen park managers serve us. Following the relinquishment, our first board was elected and took control in July 1980.  We were incorporated December 3, 1980. The board operates with five members: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and a Director.  They are elected at the annual meeting held on the first Saturday of March. The Co-op is currently run by Lighthouse Property Management. The manager takes direction from the Board.  Board Meetings are held once a month. 

What started out as a modest Holiday Inn park, then a KOA campground, has turned into a million dollar corporation.  When we took the reins from the developer in July 1980, things started to happen.  Our maintenance fees started at $31.00 a month and have risen to $195.00 but many, many improvements and additions have been made.  Today, SLRV encompasses 46 acres with 420 lots. Most of our shareholders came in to rent or visit family and fell in love with the serenity of the park. Of the 420 lots, our park now has 357 permanent units with 78 occupied year round.  We hope this has been informative and you come to see our park soon!

Compiled by Ken Fishleigh, with special thanks to Jim Anderson, Bonnie Milliken and Jean Wadsworth.

Condensed on October 2019 by Melody Cook, Manager