Dream Landscapes

By David Ball Photography by Lori Sax October 31, 2011


Eric Bowyer (standing) and Peter Imrik found a home for their international landscape design firm in Sarasota. “Moving here was the best business decision we ever made.”Peter Imrik and Eric Bowyer’s company, Site Concepts International, designs multimillion-dollar lavish pools and sprawling outdoor landscapes for some of the most exclusive resorts and hotels in the U.S., Europe and Asia. And they do it from their bright, modern office in Sarasota’s Rosemary District. Far from feeling hindered by their location outside of a big city and major airports, Imrik and Bowyer say Sarasota’s relaxed, "highly cultured" environment recharges their creative energy.

"Sarasota has been fantastic," says Bowyer while heaping stacks of landscape plans and schematics on a long table at their office this fall. "We absolutely love it here."

"Moving here was the best business decision we ever made," Imrik finishes.

In just a little more than a decade in Sarasota, Site Concepts International has grown to be one of the handful of elite design firms that can handle such large, detailed landscaping projects. Imrik and Bowyer are coy about their revenue stream, but it’s apparent it won’t be slowing down anytime soon. They are now reaching beyond commercial resort work and are currently designing a massive public works project in the Middle East that will rival New York’s Central Park. The massive project could cost into the billions to develop.

Imrik and Bowyer, both 52, met in the 1980s at Southern California design firm Peridian International. Both were right out of college—Imrik from California Polytechnic State University at Pomona and Bowyer from Ohio State University. The pair immediately connected, and in 1991 they formed Site Concepts with a third partner, who left the company a few years later. Within six months the firm had its first international job designing a rooftop pool area for Hyatt Lagos in Nigeria.

Imrik and Bowyer ended up losing $40,000 on the deal after one of the clients involved was jailed—a not uncommon work hazard in that area of the world. Even though it put them in a financial hole their first year, the project ushered in what would become a long-lasting relationship with Hyatt that resulted in approximately 30 design contracts around the world and led to work with other international resorts.

Former Hyatt vice president of technical services Malcolm Turner, who worked with Site Concepts on all of those projects until he retired last year, says less than half of the 30 contracts ever made it to a finished hotel product.

Kempinsky Hotel, Soma Bay, EgyptThe ones that did, however, made a lasting mark on the business.

"Landscape design is paramount," Turner says. "It is the part the guest most remembers of his or her stay from the product aspect. Of course, service and food are remembered from the overall experience, but landscape will always take the image into the guest’s long-term memory."

Site Concept does detailed research about the country and culture where each hotel is located. Turner adds: "Some of their garden sculptures in the Hyatt in Hua Hin in Thailand, for example, are just exquisite and so much in place."

Turner says what kept Site Concepts winning bids from Hyatt was the attention to detail, both in preparation of bids and presentations and then when the actual design was being implemented on site.

"They had a lot of skills, both creative and human—they knew how to please an owner and operator," Turner says. "Peter Imrik has extraordinary presentation skills, making everything sound like magic. They spent so much time drawing up large-scale, user-friendly work in tremendous color and dimensions."

Site Concepts focused almost solely on international clients early on, which grew the company quickly but ultimately taught Imrik and Bowyer a lesson about the importance of diversification. After Sept. 11, 2001, the international market stopped overnight.

"We were without a single job," Imrik says. "We were enticed by a company in Florida that at the time had access to a billion-dollar line of credit. They said if we would move to Florida they would throw us as much consulting work as we could handle."

Imrik flew into Orlando and then he drove down the west coast until he ended up in "this charming place called Sarasota," he says.

The move was practical, as Florida was cheaper than California, and it opened the company up to new contacts on the east coast, which in turn led to bigger jobs in Europe and the Middle East. And fortunately, they enjoyed making their home base in Sarasota.

"It has the restaurants, the art, and creative people," Bowyer says. "Per capita, Sarasota offers Florida’s best mix of interesting people."

Hiring was difficult when development and construction were booming, but the recession has made it easier to hire good employees. Site Concepts’ number of employees hovers around seven, depending on the workload.

Hyatt Regency, in Hua Hin, ThailandImrik and Bower don’t spend any money on marketing and don’t even have a proper website. Instead, they’ve built a stable of contacts among premier architectural and design firms around the globe. These contacts are the key to Site Concepts’ constant work flow, as the firms recommend the company for other jobs.

Site Concepts does sometimes have to compete for contracts with other top firms from Miami, London and Bangkok. But once they win a bid, they often get repeat business based on the quality of their work and willingness to work with company’s budgets, say the partners. Value engineering, or "creative cost cutting," as Imrik and Bowyer put it, is a must in today’s economy.

"If you plan for a 4,500-square-foot pool and the client cuts it to 2,000 or less, then you still have to find a way to create drama in that smaller space," Bowyer says. "We would see that even before the recession, but now client cutting is on every front, and you have to adapt."

But it’s not all about the costs—Site Concept’s reputation is rooted in their designs. Jet-setting around the globe on a near weekly basis, Imrik and Bowyer often spend several days visiting a region to incorporate native details into a design.

For the soon-to-be-built Park Hyatt Marrakesh, for instance, they brought in subtle details from Arab art and architecture found in surrounding villages.

"No one wants to see one more lantern garden in Marrakech," Imrik says. "Nothing we do is pre-made or comes out of a drawer. Every design is first sketched by hand."

Hotel Yountville, Napa Valley, CaliforniaA recent example was a redevelopment of a 50-room hotel in California into an 80-room resort and spa. Lisa Holt, whose company, DLS Hotels, developed the Hotel Yountville in Napa, says they owe the success of the project to Site Concepts. "We were forced into a tight space to develop a resort-level pool, and Peter and Eric came up with a simple but extremely sophisticated design for it," Holt says. "They really are the dynamic duo, and their partnership is so balanced. Eric can get the design down on paper overnight, and Peter can communicate that concept to the client."

Site Concepts’ only local project was at The Lake Club in Lakewood Ranch, which it designed in partnership with developer Canin Associates. Site Concepts took Canin Associate’s original Tuscan theme and refined the overall look with a vineyard-inspired sales center, clubhouse and various bridges that reflect the rustic but elegant Italian countryside.

The company’s presence has bolstered Sarasota’s reputation for design talent, says Jennifer Mumford Brady, director of the Ringling College Design Center, who designed the company’s business logo.

"I’m constantly awed by the caliber of creative community that is quietly working here," she says.

Imrik and Bowyer agree that Sarasota’s reputation is growing in the international design world. They describe a recent meeting they had in Paris with Sybille De Margerie, one of the top interior designers in the world.

"She asked where we were based, and I said, ‘Oh, you probably haven’t heard of it—Sarasota, Fla.," Imrik says. "But she says, ‘Oh, I love Sarasota, and I have a dear friend who lives there. It’s wonderful.’ I just couldn’t believe it. People really know about Sarasota now."

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