Cocoa Beach Pier to spend $4 million on upgrades

(Florida Today)

COCOA BEACH, Fla. – The new owners of the Cocoa Beach Pier will mark ongoing renovation on Wednesday with the illumination of a new 27-foot-tall sign designed to attract visitors to the complex at the north end of Cocoa Beach.

Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports the celebration will include an evening party with live music, as the pier's new owners pass the $1 million mark on their planned $4 million project over the next four years to make the pier a destination tourist attraction.

David Siegel and Jim Gissy, top executives of Westgate Resorts, the world's largest privately owned timeshare operator, bought the pier last year.

The pier, built in 1962 by local businessman and entrepreneur Rick Stottler, attracts more than 750,000 people a year, according to Westgate officials.

Westgate Chief Operating Officer Mark Waltrip said the renovations are transforming the pier into a more family-friendly venue, as opposed to a place to buy cheap liquor and beer.

Waltrip said the company hopes to create synergy between the Cocoa Beach Pier and Westgate's nine Central Florida resorts — with a total of 7,000 units — by offering bus transportation from those resorts to the pier, starting this spring. Westgate plans to promote the pier area as Orlando's closest beach.

About 70 percent of Westgate's Central Florida customers are timeshare owners and 30 percent are rental guests.

Step one in the Cocoa Beach Pier's upgrades was sprucing up and repairing the complex to bring it back to its former glory.

That includes new bathrooms that replaced the bathrooms that were one of Cocoa Beach Pier's biggest minuses with families.

With the cleanliness and repair issues tackled, Waltrip said Westgate is working on upgrading the pier's restaurants and retail operations.

Among the restaurant developments:

Addition of executive chef Amanda Davenport, former "Hell's Kitchen" contestant and Brevard County resident, to the pier's culinary and beverage team. She oversaw new menu development, including a focus on fresh, local fish.

Renovation of Boardwalk Bar and Restaurant, Keith's Oyster Bar (formerly O'Shucks), Pelican's Restaurant and Sea Dogs, including upgraded menus, interior design and finishes.

Converting Pelican's to Drafts Sports Bar and Grill, an ongoing process. Drafts will feature floor-to-ceiling windows to enhance the beach and ocean views, high-definition televisions and a large selection of craft beers.

Converting the former Atlantic Grill to a fine-dining seafood restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows and a dance floor. Completion is scheduled for late spring.

Waltrip said retail upgrades are in the works as well. The new owners renovated the Trader Rick's Marketplace and created a beachside retail outlet with new products and services, such as beach chair, umbrella and surfboard rentals.

New retailers will be added in the coming months, Waltrip said, including both concepts developed by Westgate and existing Brevard County-based businesses that will expand their operations to the pier.

There also will be a private beach club planned for the pier that will include a swimming pool and shower facilities for beach-goers arriving at the pier on bus tours from the Westgate resorts or from Port Canaveral.

The new sign that was installed Tuesday costs $70,000, Waltrip said. It mimics the design of the pier's original sign, and is sea-blue, red and yellow, with white lettering.

"It's not a typical project for us. It's a personal thing," Waltrip said, noting the Westgate's owners and their family members have many connections to the Cocoa Beach area.

Waltrip said sales at the Cocoa Beach Pier restaurants, retailers and parking lots are up a total of 30 percent, compared with a year ago.

Other renovations at the pier involved:

Exteriors: Refurbished and repainted in a new beach-themed color palette.

Parking lot: Added sea-turtle-friendly lighting and environmentally sensitive sea oats to the perimeter landscaping.

Plaza: Removed cracked and damaged concrete, and installed of new pavers.

Signs: Replaced and upgraded all exterior signs, including adding history boards featuring the pier, Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Westgate Resorts.

Railings and support: Replaced more than 1,800 feet of splintered pier railings and supports. Damaged wood surfaces were replaced and protectively sealed.

Awnings: Added above seating areas on the boardwalk.