Photo: Larry LambrechtMosaic now operates three golf course at its Streamsong resort.
Mosaic's Next Chapter
The successful Streamsong development has provided phosphate mining company Mosaic with part of the template for its future, but not a whole plan.
A little over a decade ago, phosphate-mining giant Mosaic began to think more about its future. The company launched an internal review to figure out how it could monetize its land once it had finished stripping it of phosphate.
It was a question with enormous implications for Florida. Mosaic is one of the state’s largest landowners. The company owns more than 290,000 acres — primarily in Polk, Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee and DeSoto counties — roughly half of which of have already been mined. More land becomes available for uses other than phosphate operations every year.
Mosaic eventually identified 16,000 acres near the southern border of Polk County for a test project that, the company said, would “demonstrate the viability of reclaimed land.” The site, most of which had been mined 50 years earlier, had been turned into a stockpile for 15 million cubic yards of sand — one of three byproducts of phosphate mining, along with clay and phosphate rock. Left largely untouched for decades, the land had been sculpted by winds into a dramatic dunescape where rains fed the growth of natural grasses.
Richard Mack, the company’s chief legal officer at the time and a former golfer at Morehead State University, recognized that the property was ideal for a golf resort
The result was Streamsong, which opened in 2010 with a 216-room lodge, a three-story clubhouse with another 12 guest rooms, four restaurants, a fullservice spa, a bass fishery, nearly 25,000 square feet of meeting space and two golf courses.
Tom Sunnarborg, a former vice president of development at Starwood whom Mosaic brought in 2010 to oversee the Streamsong’s development, says the resort’s financial performance exceeded the company’s projections, attracting golfers from all over the world.
Though the company declines to discuss financial metrics, it says its golf courses proved so popular that they began to hurt Streamsong’s group business — corporate meeting planners calling to book events at the property couldn’t reserve enough tee times. Last year, Mosaic opened a third course, plus another clubhouse and restaurant. The new course has increased the average length of stay at Streamsong.
Streamsong’s value to Mosaic extends beyond hotel bookings and tee time reservations. The company, which must wage intense legal and public relations battles when it seeks permits for new or expanded phosphate mines, hosts government leaders, industry regulators and environmental activists at the lodge to showcase what the company can do with land once it has finished mining it. It also brings in investors and Wall Street ana- lysts to soothe concerns about the company’s long-term future, since phosphate is a non-renewable resource.
But seven years after the resort opened — and 11 years after Mosaic began seriously thinking about long-term land development — even the company itself can’t say whether Streamsong is a template for the future or just a sleek one-off. The answer, Sunnarborg says, is a bit of both.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons here at Streamsong about what can and can’t be done on reclaimed land,” says Sunnarborg. “In some ways, it is inspirational. In other ways, it is unique.'
A big part of what made the Streamsong site so attractive for development was the fact that the company for many years had used it as a place to dump excess sand. It it could do so because most of the property was mined before 1975, when governments passed new laws requiring phosphate miners to “reclaim” land once they finished mining it. Instead of hoarding sand in giant stockpiles, mining companies had to pump it right back into the areas from which it had been removed.
Almost all the previously mined land that Mosaic owns was mined after 1975. In fact, the company says only about 20,000 acres of its Florida land holdings — a little more than one-tenth of its mined land — were mined before mandatory reclamation laws. There are no more giant sand stockpiles such as the one that Streamsong now sits upon.