How suite it is!

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Getting modern and retro all at once, the venerable Siesta Key Beach Resorts and Suites’ transformation has served the island quite nicely

By Ned Steele

With all the brouhaha over proposed high-rise hotels for Siesta Key, let’s pause a moment to consider what makes for a successful low-rise hotel.

Look no farther than the south end of the Village where you’ll find, exactly where it has sat for some 75 years, the only legal hotel currently on the island.

Welcome to the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, where they’ll check you in with a smile – and let you stay only two or three nights if that’s all you have. Modest but spiffy, low-key but good-vibe, this hotel has gone through numerous ownerships and iterations and emerged as a model for preservation-oriented beach town tourism.

After owners Dave Balot and Mike Holderness bought it in 2017, they were denied approval to raze the 55-unit property at 5311Ocean Blvd. and replace it with a 170-room complex on the 1.5-acre site.

Ever since, they’ve worked on turning a lemon into lemonade.

A still-continuing upgrade has overhauled the exterior, installed a sparkling new pool and spa, re-landscaped with 70 palm trees, refurbished guest rooms and injected 21st century amenities while preserving a mid-20th century atmosphere.

To passersby, the most visible improvement is the festive, you-can’t-miss-it, sidewalk-facing tiki bar completed in 2022 to cover a formerly bland patio area. A giant-sized Adirondack chair greets visitors amid the usual tiki décor, bringing an instant smile.

“We are bringing back the Siesta Key vibe of the ‘50s,” said Holderness. “And people love it.”

That is what a posse of 16 women from Toronto, Ohio – they couldn’t agree whether to call themselves “working moms” or “retired” – found upon checking in for a (very) long weekend to celebrate Cathy Terpenning’s birthday.

Seeing some of them struggle to balance lounge chairs, umbrellas and coolers to make their way to the beach, an assistant manager shouted out, “Ladies, how about a ride?”

Within seconds, a golf cart pulled up and seven already-happy women were even happier.

“We love this place,” Terpenning said, as her friends piled onto the cart. “The rooms are beautiful. They gave me free ice for my cooler. We’ll be repeat offenders here.”

Balot and Holderness paid $9.7 million for the property, and say they’ve rejected offers for as high as $40 million. For now, pending resolution of the various higher-density hotel proposals, they are standing pat with what they’ve got, taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the future.

“Who doesn’t like taking something that was in bad shape and returning it to its former glory?” asked Balot.

What they’ve done has been noticed and appreciated by the community. “It is exactly what we’d like to see more of in the Village,” said Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association. “We hope others think of doing something similar, and not try to reproduce downtown Sarasota or Longboat Key.”

During hurricanes, she added, the hotel has opened its rooms to emergency responders. “They are kind to the community as a whole,” she said.

Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said the hotel also provides lodging to artists in the annual Crystal Classic sand-sculpting festival. “They are very active and supportive,” she added. “The visitor center often gets calls from people who need two or three nights of lodging, and we appreciate that they accommodate guests for less than a week.”

The nightly cost for those two- or three-night stays ranges from about $150 to $400, depending on time of year and room size. If you want a bargain, October is your month. Overall, annually the occupancy rate hovers in the 70-80% range.

While the various hotel proposal cases – one of which is a few doors down and would throw a shadow on their property – wind through the litigation and regulation swamp, Balot and Holderness are content to wait and then contemplate any next steps. But that doesn’t mean they are pleased with the possible approval of four high-rise hotels when their application to expand an old one was denied.

“It doesn’t make sense to have new hotels when there are 6,000 legal units to rent on Siesta Key,” Holderness said. “Most condos are condo hotels – transient accommodations. They’re trying to create a false need.”

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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