Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2009 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day for a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEB. 12, 2009.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — Johan Kriek remembers the exact moment when Springbok Sports Club and Academy got its name.
He was leaving friend Gregory Cilek’s Sarasota home and had pulled on his jacket, which displayed the South African animal on its back. The springbok, known for its agility, is a term of honor and pride for athletes in Kriek’s native country.
Cilek saw the back of Kriek’s coat as the two men headed out of the house.
Perfect, he thought.
And just like that, Lakewood Ranch’s new $110 million fitness center and sports academy had a name.
At first glance, Springbok Sports Club and Academy seems like the brainchild of at least several dozen ambitious executives seated at an oval conference table. Its list of amenities reads like a collective Christmas list from every East County resident: 110,000-square-foot athletic center and spa; indoor and outdoor pools; academies for tennis, golf, gymnastics, baseball and swimming; multi-sport stadium; and even a bowling alley.
But in reality, the project’s masterminds number only three: Kriek, a two-time Australian tennis champion; Cilek, of Iowa Sports Management; and Corvus International CEO Tim Morris.
In February, the men, along with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen, LWR Communities LLC President Milt Flinn, and Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty President Brian Kennelly unveiled the project, situated on about 100 acres adjacent to The Lake Club.
And even though Kriek, Cilek and Morris have not yet secured all of their investors, Jensen said he is confident in the project and pledged long-term support of Springbok.
“Times are tough, and this is going to be a tough project to do, but we are committed to helping them make this successful — even if it takes 10 years,” he said. “This project has already begun to put Lakewood Ranch on the international map,” Jensen said.
The Springbok partners are aiming for a late 2009 groundbreaking, with the project opening by late 2010.
Perhaps the heart and soul behind Springbok, Kriek is the son of a sugarcane farmer in Pongola, South Africa. Showing an early talent for tennis, Kriek began playing competitively on the junior tennis circuit before heading to boarding school in Pretoria.
At 17, Kriek moved to Austria, where he played on the European Red Clay Circuit for two years before making it the United States in 1978. One year later, he qualified for his first U.S. Open. Kriek competed as a pro tour player until 1993, amassing an impressive résumé that includes 14 singles titles (including back-to-back Australian Open titles in 1981-82) and eight doubles titles.
“It was a fabulous time to be in the sport,” Kriek said. “All the stars were playing — (Bjorn) Borg, (John) McEnroe, (Jimmy) Connors.”
Following the pro tour, Kriek opened a sports management business in Naples. He also launched the Johan Kriek Tennis Classic, a benefit that raises money for the Naples Equestrian Challenge. In 2005, he launched the Global Water Foundation, which raises money for water in third-world countries.
Last year, Kriek moved to the East County and will serve as the director of the Springbok Tennis Academy. Kriek calls the academy his “second tennis dream come true” — and for good reason. Springbok will be able to accommodate about 200 of the sport’s future stars and provide instruction on 30 outdoor courts.
Kriek says his academy, combined with the rest of the Springbok project, will create an entirely new experience that should attract international attention to the East County.
“This is going to be absolutely unique in the world of sports,” Kriek says of Springbok. “I can’t wait to get going. … We’re going to rock and roll.”
Cilek, the visionary behind Springbok, is the man responsible for dreaming and designing the club’s appearance and amenities. He’s the man who said a bowling alley could rub elbows with a bocce court.
Founder of New York-based Iowa Sports Management Inc., Cilek entered the fitness industry in 1978 as a manager of Paris Health Club in New York. From that position, Cilek worked his way into the burgeoning local health club development opportunities and worked with several prominent developers, including Silverstein Properties, The Related Companies and the Trump Organization.
Under Iowa Sports, Cilek designed several of the city’s health clubs, including Manhattan Plaza Health Club, Brooklyn Sports Club, residential clubs such as One Carnegie Hall and Tribeca Park, and hotels such as the Four Seasons, Essex House and Mandarin Oriental. To date, Iowa Sports has developed more than 40 clubs and spas.
In designing Springbok, Cilek says it was paramount to add a community component.
“We wanted the sports club to be part of the local community,” he says. “We wanted the community to be able to come together with the sports academy and its students.”
Once Springbok is complete, Iowa Sports will continue to serve as management.
The engine behind Springbok, Morris will be the man responsible for overseeing its construction — and perhaps more importantly, its financing. It’s a tall order — to secure investors for a $110 million project in this economy. But then again, Morris, a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate, is no stranger to adversity.
Morris founded his Palmetto-based commercial and residential real estate development company, Corvus International, in 1995. Throughout his career, Morris has provided services to a variety of companies and municipalities, including General Motors, Ford Motor Company, The City of Toledo, Lear Corporation, SEMCO Energy and more.
Morris’ work has earned him numerous accolades, including selection as one of the “40 Under 40” by “Crain’s Detroit Business” and as a finalist for Michigan’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995. He also is a member of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors.
Thanks to Morris’ expertise, Springbok earned the Manatee County commission’s blessing at the board’s Jan. 27 meeting.
And now, despite the economy, Morris remains hopeful that Springbok’s potential will attract investors and keep the partners on track for a late 2009 groundbreaking.
“There’s a lot of work left to do,” he says.
Inside Springbok Springbok Sports Club
The 110,000-square-foot athletic center and spa will accommodate up to 5,000 members. Memberships will be $140 per month. The club’s amenities will include:
• Athletic center with areas for adults and kids
• Full-service spa
• Sports stadium with quarter-mile track
• Two Olympic-sized indoor pools
• One outdoor pool
• 12 outdoor and eight indoor tennis courts
• Wellness Center
• 10-lane bowling alley
• Fantasy kids pool with lazy river ride
• Restaurant and café
At opening, Springbok will be home to four live-in academies for tennis, golf, gymnastics and swimming. A baseball academy will be added in the future.
Tennis Academy. Headed by Springbok Partners LLC Principal Johan Kriek, the academy will accommodate about 200 student athletes.
Rick Smith’s Future Stars of Golf Academy. The golf academy will feature famed PGA instructor Rick Smith. Ranked by “Golf Digest” as one of the top five instructors in the world, Smith has worked with PGA stars such as Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, David Duval, Vijay Singh and more.
Swimming Academy. Although Springbok officials haven’t named the swimming academy head, Morris said it will be a former Olympic gold-medal winner.
Gymnastics Academy. Springbok officials said more details regarding the project’s gymnastics academy will be available soon.
What’s in a name?
Springbok: A small brown and white antelope native of South Africa, the springbok is known for a ritual called “pronking,” in which the male shows off his strength by jumping up and lifting the flap on his back. In Afrikaans, “pronking” means to show off.
South Africa’s national rugby team is also named after the animal. As an athlete, the term denotes toughness and resolve.
The Springbok partners have not yet secured funding to begin construction on the project.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].