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LWR Life
East County Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 2 months ago

Life of Luxury

WheelBase Premium Garage Condos offers car enthusiasts not only a secure place to store their vehicles but also a community.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Sitting just on the outskirts of Lakewood Ranch is a gated community complete with Wi-Fi, concierge services and a clubhouse. Hidden behind bright yellow doors are condominiums that range in size from 674 to 2,480 square feet. The smallest unit can be bought for $164,500, and the largest will set the owner back a half million. But while driving through the complex, one will easily see it’s not for living.

Think of it as The Ritz-Carlton for your Bentley.

WheelBase Premium Garage Condos, located at 1600 Sarasota Center Blvd., Sarasota, offers a selection of 46 garage condos that are climate controlled and 150 mph impact-rated. The units, completed in September, act as a mecca to some of the area’s greatest car enthusiasts.

At the helm of the company are Hans Schmeits and Dennis Brozak, like-minded businessmen and car enthusiasts. Both men have too many cars for their home garages, so they began brainstorming ways they could safely work on and store their cars.

“We thought, ‘Everyone needs a third space,’” Brozak says. “You have your home space, your workspace, and you need a hobby space. If you don’t belong to a country club, and you’re not a golf enthusiast, where do you go to hang out? Where do you go to enjoy your cars?”

After coming up with a concrete plan, they began a permitting journey for a 54,000-square-foot facility that confused many Sarasota County officials. The 5-acre site sits in an industrial park, but the project wasn’t for business or residential use. It also wasn’t strictly storage units or a typical condominium complex.

“They did a good job of trying to understand the project,” Brozak says. “It’s always hard to be the first, especially when it doesn’t fit into a specific category.”

Everything in each unit is customizable, from the mezzanine size and style down to the type of ceiling fan. Each condo has its own high-speed internet, HVAC split systems, 14-foot insulated overhead doors, half bathrooms and utility sinks.

“We really want to make sure that what we built was created for people to be comfortable and fit all of their needs,” Schmeits says. “We tried to think about every scenario a car enthusiast would run across in our design.”

A 2,000-square-foot clubhouse at the front of the property features a kitchen, a bar, a laundry facility, a lounge area, showers, a conference room and an 800-square-foot outdoor party space. A car wash station sits just behind the front gate, and security cameras line the entire property.

“It’s all about making sure the owners feel safe,” Brozak says. “If you’re seasonal, and you’re going up north for a few months, you know your cars are safer from both a weather and security perspective.”

Since opening, 25 units have been sold. Already they’ve been filled with some of the most spectacular cars the world has to offer — a race-driven 1960 Porsche 356 B Super 90 Roadster, a 2020 C8 Corvette and a 1997 Land Rover Defender, to name a few. Artists, entrepreneurs and craftspeople also use the space for studios and workstations.

But for many of the owners, WheelBase has offered something even greater than a secure place to store their cars: a coterie of like-minded enthusiasts, which has more value to them than any 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO.


Don and Tara Olsen, Country Club East

Since he was young, Don Olsen has loved cars — but not just any cars. Jaguars. Something about the fast and sophisticated sports car has always drawn him in.

In 1985, at age 35, Olsen bought his first Jaguar. There was just one problem: His home had a two-car garage.

“The problem I had was I would fall in love with a new car that I’d see, and I’d want to buy it, but I had no place to put it,” he says. “So anytime I bought a new one, I had to sell a car.”

Throughout the years, Olsen has owned about 15 Jaguars. So when he found out about WheelBase, he knew he had a permanent spot for his collection, which currently consists of five Jaguars. His 1,700-square-foot unit could hold up to 10 cars, though.

Although some garage owners take pride in rebuilding their cars, Olsen’s satisfaction comes from something else: cleanliness. It takes him about a year after purchasing to get his cars in top-notch condition. And although he has drip pans beneath of his cars, they’re spotless.

“I only look for cars that are in absolutely top-notch condition, the best of the best I can find,” Olsen says. “I clean them up, and I call these cars garage candy because I don’t drive them much. I just look at them.”

And while the downstairs is Don’s domain, the upstairs mezzanine is a haven for Tara, where she can work on her embroidery business, 15 Needles. It’s stuffed full of fabrics, embroidery floss and a TV to keep Don entertained while she works.

“It’s a hobby and a business, but it’s something I enjoy doing,” Tara Olsen says. “I don’t do it to make money. I do it to further my enjoyment and hopefully make a few dollars.”

Tara Olsen says she has several more items to move into her mezzanine before she gets her business up and running. As for Don, he just sold one of his Jaguars, so he has a space to fill.

“Don’t laugh now, but I’m thinking of getting a GTO,” he says with a chuckle.


Terrence Williams, Country Club East

Williams stumbled across WheelBase after he and his wife decided to retire to Lakewood Ranch and couldn’t find a lot big enough to build a garage to accommodate his car hobby. After doing some Google searches, Williams came across an article about WheelBase and immediately purchased a unit.

“It was literally just dirt at that point, but I knew I was going to want one,” Williams says. “It was a space that would accommodate my cars but also be something that would allow us to hang out, watch football and relax.”

Like a lot of young boys, Williams says his early interests were shaped by those of his father. His father is a Steelers fan, so he’s a Steelers fan. His father’s a car person, so he’s a car person. There’s just one area they disagree. His father is a Ford person, but Williams is a Chevrolet person.

For Williams, there is one car that is above all the rest: the Corvette.

“When I was a little boy, just the sleek styling of the body, the shapes, the curves, everything about the Corvette, I always just fall in love with,” he says.

His 1,250-square-foot unit is an exact replica of the detached garage he has at his home in Ohio. The unit currently houses five cars while the others remain up north for now.

Although he doesn’t do complete overhauls, Williams says he enjoys doing minor fixes himself. A lot of his cars also fit the restomod style — where a car looks like the original make with a completely new engine, transmission and suspension — because he enjoys racing.

“I enjoy speed,” Williams says. “There’s a track up in Ohio called Mid-Ohio, and they have a couple days a year where they let guys like me come down and get on the track.”

But for Williams, who was so used to working by himself in his garage in Ohio, WheelBase has offered a community.

“My garage in Ohio, it’s just me,” Williams says. “But now we get to have cars and coffee events, walk around to our neighbors’ garages, help each other out and see what everyone is interested in.”


Bob Bailey, Siesta Key

As a child, Bob Bailey’s father would take him to the race track. When he was around 10 years old, his father took him to Sebring International Raceway, where he got to meet Stirling Moss, a British Formula One driver.

“That day changed my life,” Bailey says. “I really got the bug for racing and began racing when I was 18 years old.”

At the time, people had to be 21 years old to race in the U.S., so Bailey went to Canada for three years. His career spanned 15 years, with his biggest win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1971. He finished first in the GT class and seventh overall.

His love of racing evolved into a business called Racemark International, which started out making racing safety equipment. Eventually, he began collecting race cars of his own, each with its own story. Some of his cars have personal connection while others, such as his 1954 Jaguar XK-120-M, are linked to people like Elton John’s business manager.

Before WheelBase, Bailey had to store his cars below his beachfront home on Siesta Key. During hurricane evacuations, he would have to move all of his cars off the barrier island. So he decided to move his cars into a 1,600-square-foot unit in July 2020, and he says it’s “been a blast.”

“This facility is just over the top with quality and workmanship,” Bailey says. “They just put the whole package together to get a group of car guys together in a location that is fantastic to exercise these cars in.”


Clark Prosperi, Heritage Oaks Golf & Country Club

Unlike most of the condo owners, Clark Prosperi is not a car guy. He’s an artist. While most of his neighbors toil away with an engine, Clark is perfecting colors to paint a jellyfish.

Prosperi has been painting since he was a kid growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, and his first career was as an art director for a major advertising company.

“At the time, there were a lot of artists working in advertising because there weren’t computers,” Prosperi says. “Everyone knew how to draw, and everybody was pretty much an artist, so it was phenomenal.”

While living in New York City, Prosperi rented a studio and started taking commissions. He fell in love with the work and decided he would be a professional painter. He studied with artists including Joseph McGurl and Mark Carder. Since then, he’s painted for dignitaries, athletes, cruise ships and famous people.

All the while, Prosperi says he has never stopped studying everything — from art history to the way light hits a person’s hair. He describes his style as pop or contemporary realism, and although he works in all mediums, his favorite is oil.

“Painting with oil is like cooking [with] the best stove and knife in the whole world,” Prosperi says.

He draws inspiration from the world around him, and any time he gets an idea, he immediately stops what he’s doing to write down the idea, the mood he hopes to emit and how he wants the final image to look.

Prosperi tries to paint in his studio every day, even if he’s not feeling a certain inspiration. He also teaches students how to paint — from lines and shading to what he calls the most important trick, color matching — from his unit.

Although he’s not a car guy, he is still enjoying the community at WheelBase. He is even working on a painting of a car for his neighbor, Don Olsen.


The Turner Family, Lakewood Ranch

For a family that likes to stay close, there is no better way to enjoy a hobby than together. The Turner family, which runs the family business, Liberty Port, also spends time at their shared 1,700-square foot unit.

The family is James Turner III and Toni Turner; their two sons and two daughters-in-law, Garrett and Priscilla and Parker and Tori; and Parker and Tori’s son, James V.

They use the condo to store their collective three luxury cars or antique cars and their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van. Three more cars are stored at their family farm in Tennessee.

The family uses the space for relaxation and a place to bring clients that’s out of the office. For the family, who all lead busy lives, the condo has been a way to reconnect.

“As a family, we’re very close. We all live very close,” Parker Turner says. “But I think it’s fair to say we’re passing ships because we travel a lot for work. But this has been a way to spend time together.”

Although the family members all use the garage, they say James Turner III has been the champion of keeping it and the vehicles stored there clean.

“I think Parker and Garrett like having the unit because their dad is getting close to retirement, and he will come over and keep everything clean,” Toni Turner says with a laugh.

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