The city of Venice is well known for its charming downtown district with tree-lined boulevards and Mediterranean-style architecture inspired by its Italian namesake. The aesthetic details are important here—the classic colors and barrel tile roofs, the wrought iron accents, the graceful arches, columns and balconies. And while creating a pleasing ambiance is certainly a worthy and important goal, the real impetus behind these architectural standards is something altogether different.
To borrow a phrase from President Clinton’s 1992 campaign, it’s about the economy, stupid.
Mark Beebe, principal of Beebe Design Studio Architects, has volunteered on the city’s Architectural Review Board for 10 years, currently serving as Vice Chairman. He is a firm believer in the role of architectural cohesion as an economic driver for the downtown area.
“Many Florida communities are somewhat non-descript, but we are fortunate to have a base of wonderful historic buildings,” said Mark, a long-time resident of Venice. “The review board works to retain the charm of what we have, and encourages people to make enhancements that create a consistent look and add value for everyone. Economics and aesthetics go hand-in-hand. The more we can do to promote the quaintness of our downtown, the better off we’ll all be in terms of tourism and attracting new business.”
As an example, he cited a recent renovation project that his firm managed at the Venetian Plaza Business Center, located at 304 West Venice Avenue. The 30-year-old building was not fully occupied and had no identifiable architecture style. Mark and his team went to work, adding an impressive Italian-style entry portico and tower, Tuscan columns and moldings, decorative bracket and corbel detailing, canvas shade awnings, period lighting fixtures and a fresh coat of paint. The new-and-improved façade is now a vibrant and eye-catching part of the downtown community, and Mark is confident that available lease space will soon be snapped up.
The Architectural Review Board oversees an area of approximately 60 city blocks and uses established guidelines to review and make recommendations on renovation and construction projects that fall within its jurisdiction. Creating a streamlined, user-friendly process is a key goal of the board.
“We want businesses to succeed, not get stuck in red tape,” Mark explained, noting that the board has recently approved an expanded color palette in an effort to offer more options. “People here tend to be timid about colors, while in Europe they are not,” said Mark, who often travels across the Atlantic in search of design inspiration. “Our new color palette has ten times the selection of the old one, with lots of reddish browns, deep earth tones, greens and yellows. It’s still muted and easy on the eye, but with more richness and variety.”
Mark delights in the Northern Italian Renaissance style that is the trademark of the city’s historic district. He has always enjoyed the creative process and loved drawing and building models as a child. After graduating from Venice High School in 1977, he earned a bachelor’s degree in construction from University of Florida and took a job with a Colorado construction company. Eventually he found himself missing home and headed south to pursue a masters degree in architecture from University of South Florida. Deciding that he wanted to raise his family in Venice, he built a house here for his wife Tammy and their two daughters, and opened his own firm in 1994. He has been happily immersed in the community ever since.
“I am passionate about what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to use my skills as an architect to give back to the community,” said Mark, who has completed gratis work over the years for numerous churches, schools and civic groups, including Habitat for Humanity. He is currently involved in a renovation project to transform a 100-year-old train station in Wauchula into an art museum, and he was part of the successful restoration of the Venice Train Depot.
Among Mark’s favorite local projects are some beautiful waterfront homes on the barrier islands. He enjoys the intricacies of coastal construction and the many variables and codes that must be considered. He is especially proud of a Gulf beach property on Casey Key Road that used Old World-style materials to integrate the elegance of Italianate architecture into the lush tropical landscape.
Mark is also a fan of what he calls an “Old Florida hybrid style” that combines a mix of hardwoods, stone and stucco to create a finish that holds up well to the state’s corrosive environment. He completed a multi-level home on Kings Way Drive in this style, using dramatic wood finishes and detail work to create a modern family home.
Like everyone in Florida’s building industry, Mark saw his firm affected by the troubled economy in recent years. He is encouraged by signs that business is steadily growing as clients are increasingly willing to invest in long-term improvements.
“I’m not in the business of cutting corners or building something just to get it done,” he said. “I believe in sustainable building and creating something that will last for many years to come. There’s nothing better than driving by a building that I worked on and knowing that I had a part in something that makes a lasting impression.”