If you took a stroll around the Linger Lodge property or have driven by it recently, chances are you wouldn’t recognize much outside of the iconic restaurant building.
That’s because the property has been undergoing an extensive renovation that will see more camping spaces, a clubhouse, pool, nature trails, a new bathhouse and more.
That vision, long in the works, is close to becoming a reality for Austrian businessman Franz Hartl and his family, whose River Loft LLC real estate purchased Linger Lodge Restaurant & RV Campground in 2016.
“When we bought the property, we got a lot of pushback saying don't change anything,” said Philipp Hartl, who is Franz Hartl’s son. "Everyone said leave this as Old Florida and I think that was our goal ... to preserve as much of the beauty of nature that is here.”
The project consists of two key parts — rebuilding the RV park, which now includes a clubhouse, bath house and an office building; and rebuilding the parking lot. The number of RV spots has risen from 100 to 140. Linger Lodge began as a campground in 1945 and evolved into a restaurant and RV park.
The new RV includes land toward the back of the property that came from the purchase of lots outside the original property line. All of the spots will have access to water and power hookups. Some of the former spots were unusable due to broken utilities. Now they will be a short walk to a new bath house. Shell roads will be installed toward the end of the project.
“The shell roads will help keep the Old Florida look,” Hartl said. “We’re putting trees back in. We’ve tried to keep as many trees as possible, but that’s tricky when you have to install utility lines and deal with root systems. It’s going to look great when it’s done.”
A large clubhouse featuring an event room that can host parties, bingo games or sporting events is being built in the RV park. It will also have a kitchen that can handle catering and a gym. A nature trail is going to be built along the Braden River edge that leads to the docks behind the restaurant. Hartl said the docks are going to be updated to allow boat access from the river.
Another new feature will be a large pool that will be built at the clubhouse, which is being constructed with pillars that keep the Old Florida styling. “It’s going to have a spa, a tiki hut and chairs where you’ll be able to sit and hang out,” Hartl said. “You’ll be able to see down to the river, and enjoy the sun.”
One thing that will not be changing is the Linger Lodge Restaurant itself. It will still be managed by Ruth Hofer, who said many people have contacted Linger Lodge concerned that the restaurant could change as part of the renovations. The restaurant has been closed since August 2020.
“As soon as we get this parking lot to where we can close it off, or we're not worried about people going into the construction side of the RV park, we're going to open up the restaurant,” Hartl said. “We hope it's going to be maybe the end of February.” The old parking lot was a dirt lot that turned into a muddy mess when it rained and did not have proper lighting.
“We’re getting the proper side lighting put in to make it safer for guests that come in,” Hartl said. Supply chain and staffing issues have caused some delays on the project. Team Stellar has done most of the work on the project, which was estimated to cost more than $5 million. “Crews have had a hard time finding (workers), but they’ve done a great job,” Hartl said. “Given the circumstances, I think this is the best they could do. They’ve been phenomenal.”
Hartl said that people were happy with how the restaurant was updated before its closure. He said the same will be true when the entire restaurant and campground area are up and running.
“It's been tricky and there's a lot of challenges that we had to face in order to achieve that,” he said. “But coming here on a daily basis, you see how things are progressing and starting to come together. You’ll see the buildings still have that Old Florida look once they get the paint on them. It's a huge improvement to the whole area. It's going to be beautiful.”
Hartl took one last look at the property from the front steps of the restaurant before departing the area for the holidays. After thinking for a second, he offered a glimpse of the future.
“When you stand here, and once the plants are in and the trees are back up, It's going to look like you're in the jungle,” he said. “But if you take a drone and you fly up 30 feet, you're actually in the middle of Lakewood Ranch. That makes us very happy that we have managed to keep it this way — especially given how big this area is growing.”