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Dick O'Dowd, right, manages La Playa Resort with assistance from his wife, Karen.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 4 years ago

Fountain of youth

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

La Playa Resort is all grown up.

The resort celebrated its 40th anniversary July 16.
And many of its guests have grown up along with the 21-unit resort.

Kayla Taylor, 17, began visiting La Playa when she was 3 weeks old. Over the past few years, the Temple Terrace resident has started organizing events during her stays, such as beach Olympics and talent shows for the younger children.

“Everyone really operates here like one big family,” Taylor said.

Keith Spoto, of Lakeland, has been visiting the resort for 40 years. His parents celebrated their 50th anniversary at La Playa; now, when he and his wife visit, they bring their two sets of twins: Peter and Ronald, and Doug and Vada. (La Playa was seeing double during the second week of July, when it had six sets of twins staying there.)

“The apartments change,” Spoto said, “but the essential essence of the place is the same.”

Lakeland attorney Snow Martin developed La Playa four decades ago after he developed Casa del Mar, which consists entirely of two-bedroom, two-bathroom units. But with four children, he needed more spacious units, so he developed four three-bedroom, two-bathroom units, while the rest of units were developed with two bedrooms.

Today, he spends weekends during summers at his La Playa unit.

Many of the families who stay at the resort book the same weeks each year and have developed friendships that go beyond Longboat Key.

Caroline McKinney, who has visited each year for the past seven years from Northern Ireland with her family, including twins Josh and Hannah, exchanges text messages almost daily with Spoto’s wife, Tracie.

After years of vacationing at La Playa, the McKinneys told resort managers Dick and Karen O’Dowd that they needed to check out the beaches of Northern Ireland. A couple of years ago, the O’Dowds took them up on the offer and booked a flight to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The O’Dowds, who began managing the resort nine years ago, describe the little things that guests appreciate beyond the beachfront location: outdoor chess by the beach, a garden by the pool where guests can snip their own herbs, bocce ball, bird watching and plenty of turtle activity.

“I was an old chess player, and I wanted chess (at La Playa) in part because chess players are quiet,” Dick O’Dowd said.

He thinks part of what La Playa sells to guests is peace and quiet.

“Most of the people who come here are very relaxed,” he said.

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