Two-year, $21.5 million construction project ends with a fresh look for a classic scene.
The best thing about the new buildings on Siesta Beach might be that people will see right through them.
The new entrance to Siesta frames a classic view of clear skies, blue water and white sand.
“We wanted to bring the beach into your initial perception,” said Jerry Sparkman of Sweet Sparkman Architects. “You don’t come to the beach for the architecture, you come for the beach.”
Old-timers will recognize a historic beach pavilion that dates back to the 1950s. Newcomers will admire sleek concrete-and-glass shapes that house a sheriff’s office and lifeguard headquarters.
“Everybody’s really excited about it,” says Scot Ruberg, head lifeguard at Siesta Beach. “I’ve got a view of the tower I’ve been sitting in for 20 years.”
An opening ceremony on Saturday morning will mark the end of a $21.5 million improvement project for the popular public beach that took two years to complete. The beach remained open the whole time, but there was often noise, dust and traffic from construction.
Starting this weekend, new concessions, rest rooms and picnic areas will be open. An esplanade will run the length of the beach and all 980 parking spaces will be available.
“We’ve made the best beach in America even better,” said Carolyn Brown, parks and recreation director for Sarasota County. “This is a legacy project. This is one of the biggest and most significant things we’ve done.”
In 2011, Stephen Leatherman — “Dr. Beach” — made Siesta No. 1 on his annual list of America’s best beaches. The publicity coup of this ranking helped convince Sarasota County to add parking and update facilities on Siesta Key.
Dozens of workmen spent the last week completing the Siesta Beach project.
They paved the final sections of parking lot and laid the last bricks along the esplanade. They added shrubs and mulch to the landscaping that gives the place such a lush look.
More than 1,300 trees were planted at Siesta Beach. These include sabal palms, buttonwood and sea grapes.
“All of them are native except for the 12 coconut palms next to the old pavilion,” said Bill Waddill, landscape architect for Kimley-Horn and Associates. “They were part of the original look for the pavilion and we wanted to preserve that.”
Ruberg, the Siesta lifeguard, was thrilled to find that beach renovations did not disturb a 50-foot-tall mahogany tree near the old pavilion. It was planted in memory of Jeff Muller, a lifeguard captain who died of brain cancer in the 1980s.
“It’s the most beautiful tree and they did a beautiful job of saving it and trimming it,” Ruberg said. “It’s kind of like a bouquet of flowers in the middle of these beautiful new structures.”
New roof, extra shelters
Ross Russo, a vice president at Jon F. Swift Construction, has spent the last two years working on the Siesta project.
Will he miss going to the beach every day?
“Absolutely,” he said, smiling beneath his hard hat. “I’m not going to miss the traffic during spring break, though.”
With money saved during construction, Swift was able to build a new roof for the beach pavilion and add amenities to the west end of the project. These include eight new picnic shelters along Beach Road.
For Russo, too, Siesta Beach is a legacy project.
“This is something that goes on your resume forever,” he said. “It’s great architecture, great materials at a great site. It’s hard not to love it.”