Let’s light-up that wonderful contest once again

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By Jane Bartnett

Here’s a tip for the season: When night falls, head over to Fisherman’s Cove, the condominium community that sits right next to Turtle Beach. Get ready to be enchanted by the brilliant dancing lights that turn this complex facing both the Gulf of Mexico and Little Sarasota Bay into a magical place.
It’s no wonder that Fisherman’s Cove won two first-place prizes for its category of 50-100 units in the island’s annual Holiday Lighting Contest in 2019 and 2020. The friendly competition — organized by the Siesta Key Condominium Council and co-sponsored by the Siesta Sand, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, and the Siesta Trolley — awarded first-, second- and third-place winners for condominium complexes of 101 or more units, 51-100 units, and those with 50 or fewer units.
Sadly, the event became a casualty of the pandemic. It ended in 2021.
No contest? Not a problem for the folks at Fisherman’s Cove. Last year, as in years past, to the delight of residents the many boaters and beach walkers who came by were bathed in brilliant-colored lights.
Although the past year brought its fair share of challenges to this small bit of Siesta Key paradise when the beach restoration project closed the beach and road-paving projects left owners frustrated, Fisherman’s Cove carried on. Determined to make the season bright, Jack Matalka, a resident of the condominium complex, and his dedicated small band of workers made the decision that the show must go on.

Jack Matalka begins the process of stringing lights throughout Fisherman’s Cove. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

Matalka has been the man behind the holiday lights for the past three-and-a-half years. Along with strong support of the HOA board, his fellow homeowners and dedicated maintenance staffer Greg Brazie, work began work on the Fisherman’s Cove light show about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Residents and staff also pitched in and, by mid-December, the job was done.
“This year, we had about 25,000 lights — about 10,000 more than we had in 2022,” said Matalka with pride as we toured the 84-unit, three-building.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Fisherman’s Cove general manager Dan Bronkhorst said as night fell and the colorful lights began to shine and twinkle. “Our owners and long-standing guests who come for the holidays look forward to it. This year is probably one of the best ever.”
Matalka and Brazie handled the majority of the lighting projects that included not only lighting the three-story buildings but also creating spectacular light shows on majestic palms, trees and bushes. There were weeping blue-and-white lights in trees that looked like icicles, plus nets, ropes and strings of lights in white and many colors that adorned the buildings. Along the dock, a boat was decorated with festive white lights that matched a nearby light pole.
I wondered if it was there for Santa.
When I asked if Matalka sketched out a plan for the lights in advance, he shook his head and said “Oh no. We just eyeball things.”
Brazie nodded his head in agreement. “There’s no formal design plan or anything like that. We just design the lights as we go. The trick is to attach the lights with zip ties,” he said. “But we do make sure that each building has different colored lights.”
Are you sure you don’t have any professional theatrical lighting experience, I asked.
“Not me,” Brazie said with a laugh. “I’m just a guy from Ohio. But I do love it here on Siesta Key and I love Fisherman’s Cove.”

As we cruised along on a golf cart on a tour of the lights, Matalka noted that “One of the best views is from the canal. Boaters really enjoy the lights. They slow down as they go by. We get a lot of visitors. It makes people happy.”
One busy condo resident stopped by to thank Matalka for his work and said, “I just drove down from Pennsylvania and boy was it beautiful! It’s so welcoming and warm. We need these lights right now with everything going on in the world,” as he rushed off.
He’s right. A visit to Fisherman’s Cove is a real mood-brightener.
“The lights really do bring so much joy,” said Bronkhorst.
Added Matalka, “That’s why we’re going to keep them up through the season.”
That brings me to some exciting news. Behind the scenes at the Siesta Sand, there’s been talk about bringing back the Holiday Lighting Contest in 2024. As a long-time sponsor, we’re big fans of the event and we hope to make 2024 the year that a new contest makes its debut. In fact, please email us if your condo is interested in participating.
What fun it would be to get everyone back in the swing of things next year? How’s that for a new year’s resolution?
Happy New Year Siesta Key. And thank you, Fisherman’s Cove, for making the season bright.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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