Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

One of St. Pete Beach's flagship hotels, the Sirata Beach Resort, is fresh off a $15 million renovation that has touched almost every part of the property: all 382 guestrooms, a new kid's play area and splash zone, a new northside pool and  coming next month  the reopening of the Rum Runners Bar & Grill and the southside pool.

But it's not just a physical refit for the resort, which spreads itself over 13 acres of St. Pete Beach's white sand strands. According to Jeff Abbaticchio, marketing director for the Sirita Beach, "We've brought on a full-time activities director, and we now have a full program of entertainment and activities like you'd find on a cruise ship."

He said the most popular event is the Sirata Belly Flop Contest, which takes place every Saturday at 2 p.m. There's also face painting, henna tattooing, beer pong, beach volleyball and trivia.

"We also designed a separate rec room with foosball tables and an Xbox lounge  obviously very popular with the teens," said Abbaticchio. "The room's expected use was inclement weather, but even in the winter when the weather's great, it's a nice place to take a break from the sun."

Abbaticchio was eager to drive home one main point of the Sirata revamp: It's leveraging its local roots. "Harry's Beach Bar is the oldest beachfront watering hold in St. Pete Beach, having opened almost 50 years ago," he said. "It doesn't get much more local than that, but we wanted to give it a little sprucing up." Harry's is located next to the northside pool, and now there's a fire pit with hanging swings, as well. Rum Runners Bar & Grille has a richer, more elegant feel, with fabric sails within the roof and a teak deck that goes out to the beach, where guests can play giant-size versions of Jenga and chess.

In another nod to the local scene, the Sirata Beach Resort commissioned local muralist Derek Donnelly to paint several larger-than-life works throughout the resort. Sister city St. Petersburg has built a solid reputation as an art hub, with renowned museums like the Moorean Arts Center and the Dali Museum serving as flagships for the area; the hope is the Donnelly murals will bring some of that experience to St. Pete Beach.

"We wanted to set ourselves apart within St. Pete Beach, while incorporating some local color  the murals you'll see at Sirata recall the murals visitors to St. Petersburg see when they're brewery- or gallery-hopping downtown," said Abbaticchio. "We wanted to create a bridge from St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach." Both murals are now complete.

One of Donnelly's murals combines the themes of art and education and is located in the kid's splash zone. It depicts the sea turtle nesting season and ties in with a presentation to kids from Turtle Joe, an employee of the hotel who educates junior guests about the area's sea turtles and their part in the local ecosystem. The other mural showcases local flora and fauna, including sea grapes, sea daisies, gecko lizards and others. "There's whimsy in the art, but there's also function," said Abbaticchio. "Derek is known for his whimsical art, and that's why I thought it would be a great collaboration."

The "live local" mantra extends even into the gift shop at the Sirata Beach Resort, where guests can take home items from St. Pete-area brands like clothing and accessories from Saltwater Hippie and I Love the Burg as well as locally produced honey.

When asked why he believes putting a local touch into legacy hotel brand renovations has become such a trend, Abbaticchio said, "Guests want to have a unique experience and bond with the destination. When you go to an independent hotel, you get in touch with the feel of the destination. We felt we needed to set ourselves apart, not just from the rest of St. Pete Beach but from the rest of the state. There are so many options, so it was important that each stay feel hyperlocal and memorable."

Rooms at the Sirata Beach Resort start at $120 per night.

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