It wasn't the Oscars, but to the crowd celebrating a local construction company's debut appearance on national television, it might as well have been.
About 20 enthusiastic fans, friends and business owners gathered in front of the big screen TVs at Sundowners restaurant Feb. 3 to watch the Hotel Impossible episode that highlighted ST Sparks Construction as it renovated key areas of the Creekside Inn on Plantation Key.
The festivities were the culmination of the project, which began Sept. 27 with an email from the Travel Channel: A crew from the reality show would be in Islamorada in early November and needed to hire a local, licensed contractor to help renovate portions of a struggling hotel.
Would ST Sparks Construction be interested in meeting with renowned New York designer Leslie Segrete to talk about the job?
Co-owner Patty Sparks said "yes" but her husband, Sammy, took some convincing. Ultimately, however, he caved in and the husband and wife team started the mad rush to complete major improvements at the motel.
In four days.
With a nominal budget.
The project turned out to be one of the highlights of Sammy's career.
The reality show's premise: Host Anthony Melchiorri, a "hotel fixer," visits a property that's having serious problems or isn't living up to its potential. He "secretly scouts the property and identifies its biggest problem," according to the website, and meets with staff and the owners to identify operational and other issues.
Over the summer, Melchiorri met with Creekside owner German Fucaraccio and decided to take on the project. Melchiorri brought in designer Segrete to come up with a plan to physically improve the property. In this case, the lobby and the waterfront area needed immediate attention.
Ten days after the first email, Segrete was in town to interview contractors. Sammy and Patty spent more than an hour walking the property with her and at the end of the interview, Segrete awarded the job to ST Sparks Construction.
It was a logical choice.
The third-generation contractor started out in Macon, Ga., and has almost 40 years in the construction industry. He started out as an apprentice in his father's company early on and by the age of 16, he was running his own crew.
He's built high-quality, high-end residential, commercial and government structures ever since. Sammy is no stranger to the media as he has completed numerous high-profile, major projects in his career that have captured the public's attention.
"Construction is in my DNA," said Sammy. "I'm not your kitchen guy; I'm not your bathroom guy; I'm your high-end, custom-home guy who takes pride in his work."
He builds more than homes, however. Sammy has built schools, hotels, office buildings, retirement centers and custom homes from Atlanta to the Florida Keys.
His resume includes roof replacement on 13 National Park Service structures in Everglades National Park after Hurricane Andrew, building the Martin Luther King Visitor Center in Atlanta, and working on the Downtown Redevelopment and Restoration project in Lawrenceville, Ga., to name a few.
It was the second time a reality show had contacted the Sparks'.
"The first group wanted to focus on family drama," said Patty. "We weren't interested. There is little to no drama in our family."
The four days allotted quickly narrowed to about 2 1/2 days, between delays caused by shooting commercials and getting everything organized for taping. "A job like this would ordinarily take weeks to complete," Sammy noted. He added that the folks at the Village of Islamorada, in particular, Building Official Gerry Albertson, were great to work with.
The biggest issue was the lobby area, which Sammy quickly discovered was about 3 1/2 inches out of level. It took nearly full day to demolish the existing flooring to get it ready for the new covering. Tiling the floor took up much of the second day.
Their next challenge was the outdoor common area.
"We did a lot of work on the outside," said Sammy, including electrical, plumbing, painting the outdoor furniture, and cleaning, repairing and resurfacing the concrete decking. The Sparks Construction crew also installed the outside cooler storage area -- used by guests for bait and fresh-caught fish, which were not allowed in the rooms' refrigerators -- as well as a new outdoor cooking station.
By the fourth, the lobby was ready for set up.
Sammy said he and his crew burned the midnight oil for those 2 1/2 days he had to complete the project. And those days were all on camera, he noted.
"Three cameras, all the time," he said. "There was a lot of stress" <\#209> something he was familiar with from previous jobs. He'd sleep for two hours and then, thinking about the project, he'd roll out of bed and go to the site to work by himself.
"There was a lot of nail biting," Patty added, "but we really enjoyed working with the designer," who was featured on Trading Spaces on TLC, and the talented crew. "Anthony is funny and sharp as a tack."
Sammy and Patty credit their local subcontractors with helping them meet their deadlines. "We work with some great people and appreciate all the labor and time they donated. We would like to thank Wire Nuts Electric, Roman Drywall, Bri-Tech Coating, Tom Baker the Cabinet Maker and Bayside Plumbing."
Throughout the process, the work that went on at the property was totally secret, even from the owners, Sammy said.
A second show was broadcast Feb. 10. Hotel Impossible is available to more than 100 million homes. To see excerpts from the show, go to: http://www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/hotel-impossible/episodes/owner-overboard. It can also be seen at no charge on demand or it can be downloaded on iTunes (Hotel Impossible - Owner Overboard).
"It was a pleasure to work with the cast and crew of Hotel Impossible and we are genuinely hooked on the series," Patty said.