Juan Florensa has had significant impact on Longboat Key in the nearly two decades that he lead the town's public works department.
He’s been on Longboat Key for almost 20 years.
He’s seen the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort degrade, helped beaches grow, and watched them shrink, and witnessed at least two hurricanes. He’s stood before at least 17 different commissions and worked for three town managers.
Now, after more than 17 years as a Public Works director on Longboat Key, Juan Florensa is retiring.
“I’m going to miss it tremendously,” Florensa said. “It was a challenge sometimes, but it’s something that I rather enjoyed doing.”
Florensa started as director of the Longboat Key Public Works Department in 2001 after working in North Port and Sarasota city governments. An engineer by trade, Florensa said that Longboat Key has been his favorite place to work.
"I learned over my career it’s not just the merits of the project, it’s how you present that and create an interest in people" — Juan Florensa
And it’s not the white-sand beaches or the picturesque sunsets that made Longboat Key a great place to spend the latter half of his career.
It was the town’s leaders, commissioners who understood when departments made mistakes and didn’t berate staff publicly about their missteps.
It was the people who worked for him, those employees who fixed a broken lift station or filled a pothole and who had worked in and known Longboat Key often longer than he had.
And it was the people he got to work for, the residents whom Florensa said often recognized the work he and his department had done and said something about it.
“They always say, ‘Thank you so much,’ they really appreciate what you do,” Florensa said of island residents. “I learned over my career it’s not just the merits of the project, it’s how you present that and create an interest in people.”
What he’s done
Florensa has overseen many projects in the more than 17 years he served as director of Public Works. Some of them may have been more publicly perceptible, but all had an impact in one way or another on how Longboat Key operates.
Take, for instance, Florence’s first project on the island: retrofitting the town’s sewer pumps. There are 48 of them, a daunting task by most measures.
But now, as he finishes his career, the Public Works Department has replaced some 75% of the existing pump stations, a number Florensa said he’s proud to have achieved.
“You have to do a bit at a time — how do you eat an elephant?” Florensa said. “I don’t think I could have done it any faster, and I don’t think I could have done it any cheaper.”
If the sewer system was the longest project Florensa has worked on, the biggest, he said, is the mid-2000s beach restoration and renourishment work.
The town put sand on every inch of the more than 10-mile-island’s beaches, Florensa said. The more than $20 million project sourced 2.3 million cubic yards of sand from the offshore seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico.
“It really helped us — we got a major storm, and had that sand not been there it would have caused more damage and flooding,” Florensa said. “It was done within budget, no delays and on time.”
Florensa said he also oversaw the construction of Longboat Town Hall and the Longboat Key Tennis Center, both on Bay Isles Parkway, the Longboat Key Town Police Department on Gulf of Mexico Drive and the Longboat Key Town Public Works headquarters on General Harris Street.
“The town went on a building boom for a while, and I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time,” Florensa said.
The town installed three sand-saving structures, called groins, between 2010 and 2015, Florensa said, two on the beach behind the Islander Club and two others at the end of North Shore Road on the north end of the island.
Florensa also oversaw funding to extend an emergency water pipe from Manatee County to the Key to connect with Sarasota County. He negotiated an agreement with the latter, secured a state grant and persuaded the Town Commission to fund the rest to make this project work.
Where he’s going
The biggest challenge Florensa said he sees in retirement is disengaging.
So after Friday, Jan. 19, he’s leaving the country — not for good, but for a while. Florensa said he’ll spend 22 days at sea on a cruise from San Francisco to Australia, where he’ll dive the Great Barrier Reef.
Once he’s back, Florensa said he plans to stay involved on Longboat to be with the friends he’s made over the past 17 years. He’s a member of the Chamber of Commerce and gets his hair cut on the island.
Otherwise, Florensa plans to travel, see his grandkids in Atlanta and volunteer with the American Red Cross, where he said he hopes to use his public works experience to help with disaster relief.
“I think professionally, if I don’t need to supplement my retirement income, I don’t want to work for a living,” Florensa said.
And if he had one tip for Isaac Brownman, who is succeed Florensa as Public Works director, it’s to care for his staff.
“Your staff is your biggest asset,” Florensa said. “Take good care of them.”