By Sallie James
BOCA RATON — Charles L. Siemon, the land development attorney and visionary who helped design Boca Raton’s iconic Mizner Park and co-founded the Festival of the Arts Boca, died on Sept. 24 in the Florida Keys of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. He was three days shy of his 75th birthday.
It was his proposal, along with business partner Wendy Larsen, to build a European-designed, open-air plaza on the site of the blighted Boca Mall, which had fallen into disrepair in the 1980s. Mr. Siemon’s ideas changed the city’s downtown forever, transforming it into a destination known for outdoor shopping, fine dining, cultural events and architecture.
“He designed the central plaza. He was very creative and very much a visionary. It was his idea to have the residences in Mizner Park. It turned out to be very successful,” Larsen said. “The face of downtown Boca was really shaped by Charlie.”
Larsen and Mr. Siemon met in 1975 when they worked together as young lawyers in Chicago. They started their own firm, Siemon & Larsen, in 1983, with offices in Chicago and Boca Raton. Mr. Siemon was hired by Boca’s Community Redevelopment Agency in 1985, where he worked with CRA Director Jamie Snyder to develop a downtown plan that the city adopted. Siemon & Larsen, which merged with the law firm GrayRobinson in 2014, were the first office tenants to move into Mizner Park.
“We worked in New Jersey and Louisiana and all over Florida and did the first of everything. Mizner Park, after it was built and became very successful, it became sort of like a slogan — people would say, ‘It’s a Mizner Park-like project,’” Larsen said.
Mr. Siemon and Larsen founded the Center for the Arts at Mizner Park, with a plan to build out the north end with cultural facilities. Their vision became reality.
“We talked the Museum of Art into coming downtown,” Larsen said. “They were originally going to go out west somewhere. They raised their own money and built their museum. Meanwhile we were raising money for the amphitheater.”
The $6.2 million Mizner Park Amphitheater opened in November 2002.
“He was always so proud” of Mizner Park, his daughter Lisa Ziels said. “It was always in the back of everything. It was a big deal to him.”
Mr. Siemon was born on Sept. 27, 1945, to Margaret and Robert Siemon in Washington, D.C., and grew up in West Palm Beach. His family moved to South Florida when he was a young child. He attended Ransom Everglades High School in Miami, then headed to Emory University in Atlanta, where he met and married Laura “Lolly” Magnuson. The couple remained together until she died of brain cancer in 2010.
Mr. Siemon attended graduate school at Florida State University in Tallahassee, followed by Officer Candidate School. He became a naval officer aboard the USS Shangri-La during the Vietnam War. Following his return to the States, he headed back to FSU for his law degree.
Ziels described her father as a stern man and workaholic who traveled a lot while she was growing up but was always there when it mattered most. Having grandkids changed his priorities.
Mr. Siemon “had always made this big deal about how he was never going to hold babies and when my daughter was born he could hardly wait to hold her,” Ziels recalled. “He said, ‘I have a new reason to live.’ Having grandkids changed his whole view on life. It absolutely softened him and gave him just a different view on life.
“It was the soft side of Charlie that most people in Boca didn’t know. He was a great dad and even better grandpa,” his daughter said.
Mr. Siemon was an avid baseball fan who followed the Chicago Cubs and a devoted angler who loved to fish and take others fishing.
“I don’t think there is anything he truly loved more than being on the front of my husband’s boat. I think that was probably his favorite place in the entire world,” Ziels said.
Mr. Siemon retired to the Keys about three years ago, moving in with Ziels and her family in Marathon so they could care for him as his health began to fail and the memory-robbing effects of Alzheimer’s took hold. He was surrounded by family at his death.
According to the Festival of the Arts Boca website, Mr. Siemon was also involved in a beach and downtown redevelopment project in Clearwater titled One City One Future and preparation of a downtown plan and community redevelopment plan for Coral Springs. Mr. Siemon also led the preparation of a downtown master plan, including the design of a new downtown from scratch, and a community redevelopment plan for the city of Oviedo.
He was a member and chairman of Boca Raton Community Hospital’s board of directors; member of the hospital’s finance and outreach committees; and founding chairman of the nonprofit Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park Inc., implementing and designing a cultural facilities center at the park’s north end. Mr. Siemon served on the Festival of the Arts Boca steering committee and as chair since the commencement of the festival in 2007.
Mr. Siemon was preceded in death by his parents and his wife. He is survived by his daughter Laura Seubert, son-in-law Jason and grandchildren Jake, Joey and Lillian; his daughter Lisa Ziels, son-in-law Todd and grandchildren Hannah and Dylan; and his siblings Robbie Siemon, James Siemon, George Siemon and Marge Siemon.
No services have been planned because of the coronavirus pandemic. His family hopes to organize a memorial service sometime after the new year.
In memory of Mr. Siemon, the family requests that donations be made to the Festival of the Arts Boca (www.festivalboca.org/donate) or Amedisys Foundation (Amedisys Hospice at www.amedisys.com).