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Landmark castle owner has bluegrass roots

Tom Post spent millions of dollars and several years rebuilding the landmark castle on Versailles Road into a luxury inn that draws an increasing number of paying visitors in addition to curiosity seekers.

"I am the castle; the castle is me," said Post, a Miami lawyer who once lived in Lexington.

Nearly 18 months after opening, the castle has become a money-making venture and a source of pride for its owner, Post said. Business increased as room rates were cut from $1,000 a night to between $375 and $600. The turret suites that once cost $3,000 a night are now $1,250.

During an interview Saturday, Post, not a widely known figure in Central Kentucky, revealed details about the landmark he owns on U.S. 60 in Woodford County and his private life as a Miami lawyer.

Post has roots in the Bluegrass. A Lafayette High School graduate, he earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a law degree at the University of Kentucky. At the University of Miami law school, he earned a master's of law degree.

But Post made his money in real estate. In downtown Miami he owned hotels, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots. "Real estate was very, very good to me," he said.

He sold the buildings a few years ago, before the real estate market crash, but Post said he still owns several downtown acres of vacant land and parking lots.

Practicing law in Miami for more than 30 years, Post specializes in property tax law. Property taxes are the main source of revenue for Florida and its cities. "Our job is to make sure our clients don't pay more than their fair share of property tax," Post said of his three-member firm

While in Kentucky for a meeting of the state bar association, Post saw the castle in 2000. Post had been looking for a vacation home for his family when, driving down Versailles Road, "I saw this beat up old 'for sale' sign" in front of the castle."

He called the number on the sign without any luck. So he hired a private investigator who, in about four hours, located the family that owned it. Post negotiated and bought the castle for $1.8 million in 2003.

The previous owner, the deceased Lexington contractor Rex Martin Sr., started building the castle in 1969. But it was never finished and sat empty for more than 30 years.

Improvements started by Post were nearly complete when a fire in May 2004 destroyed the building. The state fire marshal's office concluded there was "a high probability" that an arsonist set the fire, but nobody was ever charged.

People called and wrote to Post, saying how much they missed the castle, even though it was in really bad repair, he said. "They said please build it back."

While Post was on a beach in Puerto Rico in 2005, he said the idea came to him to build a bigger castle and open a unique bed and breakfast.

During construction, Post employed 300 people and for a short time was one of the largest employers in Woodford County, said Charles Martin, CastlePost general manager. "And he paid cash for everything."

Sitting in a small paneled dining room on Saturday, Post said, "What you see here is real. The wood is real. The stone is real. We built the castle with the finest professional workmen we could find."

The castle was rebuilt by Florida general contractor Richard Besola

Post said with a chuckle, "We say Hugh Hefner has nothing on us. He has a mansion; we have a palace."

The castle has 50 rooms including a library, sitting room, game room and a dining room for 40 guests. Outdoors is a 20-by-50 foot pool, tennis courts, formal garden and a large Chinese dragon fountain spouting water.

Bookings are strong in April and October during Keeneland, and Post expects plenty of guests this summer and during the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games in September.

The castle is becoming popular with brides. Eight weddings are scheduled over the next few months, said Dana Martin, marketing and special events coordinator.

The castle has become a sought-after site for charitable events. Two to three are scheduled each month.

Martin said more than a half-million dollars has been raised by events at CastlePost since it opened. The castle had an open house in December to benefit the Salvation Army and raised $72,000 after 1,800 people went through in three days. Post will be honored on May 9 by the Salvation Army.

He said it will be "one of my greatest feelings of accomplishment, helping these charities raise badly needed funds."

The news hasn't all been good. Nearby residents filed a lawsuit in December to limit the number of events held at the castle. The case is pending in Woodford District Court.

Part of the castle operation is a 2.5-acre garden where farm manager Carol Lainhart raises vegetables and herbs used in the castle's kitchen.

The garden is in its second year of a three-year program to become a state-certified organic garden.

Across Versailles Road from the castle, Post also owns a 220-acre farm with a historic house operated as an eight-room bed and breakfast.

The castle is a family affair with all members having had a hand in renovations. Post's wife, Judith, is a doctor with multiple specialties and a professor of radiology at the University of Miami. Daughter Kathryn graduates next month from the University of Miami medical school. Both worked with interior designer Victor Saho of J. Victor Interiors in Louisville on selecting castle furnishings.

Son Chris, a second-year law student at Boston College, worked summers and vacations hauling steel rods and pouring concrete.

"He loves the place as much as I do," Post said.

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