'Insane' pools put Manatee homes, businesses on Animal Planet

MANATEE -- A new Animal Planet home-improvement series making its debut this week is out to prove, when it comes to backyard swimming pools, people in the Bradenton-Sarasota area are insane.

That's not a bad thing, especially for the guy who built them.

On Friday night, the network airs the premiere episode of "Insane Pools: Off the Deep End." That show and five others that follow weekly chronicle six construction projects undertaken by Osprey pool builder Lucas Lagoons in 2014 and early 2015.

Four pools belong to Manatee County homeowners. Two others were built in Sarasota County.

Lucas Congdon, owner of Lucas Lagoons, said building his signature natural stone pools on a TV production schedule was tough.

"It was just amazingly hard," Congdon said. "Projects we usually have a month to do, we had to do in 10 days."

For Lucas Lagoons, and several other local companies profiled briefly in the episodes, "Insane Pools" is a product placement coup.

Picked up for the series on the strength of YouTube videos Congdon and his crew have posted online for years, and through the efforts of a public relations firm and a production company to sell the idea, "Insane Pools" joins the Animal Planet program lineup as a prime-time companion to the network's established "Treehouse Masters" program.

Priced between $150,000 and $225,000 each, the pools reach the "insane" level solely on cost. A basic backyard swimming pool sells

for about $35,000, according to area builders.

Lucas Lagoons went well beyond the standard, blue-bottomed, kidney-shaped pool for the series. One of the biggest projects profiled is a pair of pools built for Panther Ridge residents Henry and Valerie Taylor. Congdon and his crew of four used 48 tons of Tennessee stone to give a connected plunge pool and hot-therapy pool the look of a mountain swimming hole.

Pools featured include one other in Panther Ridge, one on Snead Island, one near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and one on Siesta Key.

The premiere will profile the Siesta Key project. To make it "insane," Congdon convinced homeowners David and Kathy McCabe to upsize their plan for a $25,000 koi pond to a $165,000 pool remodel.

David McCabe, who initially resisted the expense of the bigger project, said he and his wife were blown away by the final reveal of a yard-spanning aquatic environment for his family and the koi.

"It was a huge, spectacular change," he said.

While the pools might seem to have little connection with the "Animal Planet" theme, network spokeswoman Karin Failla said outdoor "wish fulfillment" programs are popular with viewers.

"Our viewers thrive on being outdoors and reconnecting with nature," Failla said. "Lucas' clients reflect this sentiment by wanting to have nature at their fingertips right in their backyard."

Homeowners featured on the show paid for the pools to be built, although Congdon discounted his work about 10 percent to make their screen time worth it. Paid about $1,500 per episode, he said he likely lost money building the pools for the series, but believes he'll make up for it by picking up big-dollar pool jobs around the United States and internationally. A commercial preview version of some of the filming has already been released, as has a trailer on Animal Planet's website. As a result, he's flying to the Caribbean next week to bid a job.

"We're already getting hits from all over," Congdon said.

Also likely to pick up name recognition are companies supplying audio equipment, furniture and other services. Featured businesses will include Whitfield furniture dealer Decor Direct, Bradenton lighting company Pleasant Lighting, Blue Sky Landscaping from the east Fruitville area and Sarasota's Coastal Audio & Visual.

Celeste Gruenstein, a team leader at Decor Direct, said the "Insane Pools" production crew pulled off a first-in-her-business' retail warehouse while documenting furniture going to the Siesta Key project.

For one of the episodes, a cameraman flew a drone indoors to showcase the inventory of antiques and new furniture from ceiling level. Gruenstein said the cameraman feared crashing the drone into expensive items.

"When he got done, he said: 'I need to sit down,'" she said.

This isn't the first time a reality series has filmed in the Bradenton area. Custom auto shop Slicks Garage was recently the star of the Discovery series "Highway to Sell."

Debbie Meihls, Manatee County film commissioner, said her agency is waiting "on pins and needles" for news about a renewal of "Highway to Sell." The "Insane Pools" crew did not work through the commission as all its filming was done on private property.

Meihls said she previously worked with "Treehouse Masters" to obtain a filming permit for a scene in an episodes.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.