Resort mogul to close on deal

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Wants to build 200-acre resort

By Jeff Bryan

In one week, Jim Gissy will close the deal on the remaining 91 acres of Rainbow River Ranch property still owned by Jerry Dodd and the Conversation Land Group LLC.

In doing so, the vice president for West Gate Resorts will own from the Rainbow River to Southwest 180th Avenue Road. But it’s not the only deal Gissy has in place, he said, explaining he is partnering with David Segal, the billionaire owner of West Gate Resorts. All told, the amount of acreage along County Road 484 totals more than 150 acres.

Once the deal with Dodd closes May 30, the vice president for West Gate Resorts said, the real work will begin. The first step, he explained, is done. His business partner at Rainbow Springs Country Club, Geoff Goetz, has been hired by West Gate Resorts to serve as a local liaison, who will report directly to West Gate COO Mark Waltrip. Gissy said Waltrip oversees all West Gate Resort projects, and in this case, will do so once again. “You can’t say a number at this point,” Gissy said about the cost of the project.

The second step in the process is complete a plan development, Gissy said, in which they combine Gissy Rainbow River Ranch along with the Cubbage Property he purchased a year ago, and file a formal request with the city of Dunnellon to rezone all of it commercial.

The vision, Gissy said, is to build a cutting-edge, environmentally friendly resort similar to West Gate River Resort Ranch. It will include the main lodge, teepees, glamping tents, cabins, RV park as well as stables for overnight lodging for horses.

“I’ve seen resorts all over the world, this will be nicest eco-tourism resort people will have ever seen,” Gissy said. “What we’re going to do there will be eco-friendly, it will be top notch. This property is so incredible, it’s the best I’ve ever seen. We’re not destroying the property. This will be a boon for the city.”

Construction, he explained, will be done by local contractors; employers at the resort will be local residents. At full build out, Gissy said, there will be between 150 and 250 full-time jobs, paying more than minimum wage all the way up to six-figure salaries for management positions.

“They’ll be good high-paying positions,” he said, noting the benefits of health insurance, 401K plans and opportunities to rise in the ranks as well as job opportunities nationwide within the chain. “This is a chance to provide people with good jobs, close to home.”

The plan is centralize the resort within Southwest Marion County, include five-star amenities and cater to middle-class families as well as retirees. The key, he said, he wants the property to remain inside the city limits. The resort, he said, will not be a time share; however, those who have time shares with West Gate Resorts can trade their time to spend a week at the Dunnellon-based resort.

“We’re talking about bringing in hundreds of people for four to seven days, who are going to spend their money in the local shops and restaurants,” he said. “We’re going to be flying in celebrities to the Dunnellon Airport; I’m telling you, you’re going to see a number of celebrities coming into Dunnellon. Top people will be coming in there.

“I’m going to bring Dunnellon on the map in the biggest way. People will love it; people will get good paying jobs. The money is going to come in; people are going to come in and they’re going to spend their money.”

It’s not about making money, Gissy said, but about changing and improving the lives of people in and around Dunnellon.

“This will change the whole city, it’ll be advertised all over world,” he said. “All those businesses will in increase in customers. I understand business and pleasure; the children who grow up in Dunnellon, cannot get a job so they have to move so a lot of these people will be able to stay in Dunnellon. They’ll have a job they can pay their bills.”

It all starts with a vision, GIssy said. Tentative plans call for eco-friendly tours throughout the area, including the city’s phosphate history, the whole history of Dunnellon as well as a baseball and softball fields for church and youth groups to utilize. In addition, there will be horseback riding lessons among the many offerings for guests.

The resort will also have its own small farm, offering farm to table foods and a possible microbrewery, Gissy said. He also realizes there will be citizens who will be concerned such a development will destroy the local environment. Gissy stressed that will not the base.

“It is important to keep this stuff clean so everyone can have a great time enjoying nature, but we do have to keep it clean and preserved,” he explained. “No one has more incentive to keep the Rainbow River clean than David and I. We’re investing a lot of money here; if we don’t keep the river clean, our money is no good here.”

Gissy also owns GIssy Springs in between Sateke Village and Rainbow Springs State Park as well as Rainbow Springs State Park. He plans to incorporate Gissy Springs into the resort plans, where guests can launch their kayaks, canoes, paddleboards as well as floats from that property and make their way down to his resort. In addition, he said, he owns property along the Withlacoochee River across from Stumpknockers. The plan is to build a restaurant/tiki bar with a kayak/paddleboard launch that will allow resort guests to enjoy the 4.5-hour trek along the Withlacoochee River.

All told, Gissy owns or has a share in more than 800 acres of property in and around Dunnellon and the Rainbow River.

“It was a very long and expensive process to try to develop the property,” said Gerry Dodd. “If the sale of my remaining parcel to Mr. Gissy does close, he will be a good steward of the land.”

However, Gissy said if the city council believes it is in the best of the community to not develop the property, he has an arraignment in which the state would purchase the development rights, preventing any future development.