Service plazas evoke visions of harsh fluorescent lighting, dingy bathrooms, and shelves of high-calorie snacks. Even with such dismal offerings, they are becoming rare amenities because of closures in many states. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, inspired by Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaign to green the state, is a refreshing exception. The Enterprise is defining a new notion of the rest stop: that of a healthy environment in which to linger and relax.

Known as the state’s “Main Street,” the Florida Turnpike runs 312 miles through North-Central Florida between Miami-Dade County and Okahumpka. Areas USA, a provider of food, beverage, and retail services, was awarded a 30-year contract to make the concept of “green” service plazas a reality. It assembled a design-build team including Miami-based Zyscovich Architects, a firm known for its urban planning and sustainability expertise, to design four new facilities and renovate three existing ones to comply with LEED Silver standards.

Constructed during the 1950s and ’60s, the exisiting gas stations were renovated in the 1980s. These block and stucco buildings are typical of their genre, with small storefronts, automatic doors, and low ceilings, resulting in cavernous spaces.

Renovations will increase ceiling heights and incorporate clerestory windows, and the new plazas will maximize natural light with plenty of glazing and soaring ceilings with skylights.

In order to meet LEED Silver requirements, the design team is investigating alternative power sources such as wind turbines, and is considering offering biofuels for sale to its customers. Landscaping with indigenous plants will result in water savings, while installing native stone, tile, and wood will help achieve regional materials LEED credits. Renderings depict modern and inviting structures with a natural color palette of white and light wood, fitting for the warm climate.

The service plazas vary by use; some are frequented by commuters, while others primarily serve visitors headed to Disney World or a beach. In these cases, Zyscovich added restrooms of a size you’d normally find in a stadium to accommodate busloads of tourists. Instead of the usual plastic fast food tables and chairs, a variety of seating options, including lounge seating and laptop work areas, will invite residents and visitors to linger. One facility may even incorporate a full-service restaurant. The food outlets, which are all headquartered and originated in Florida, will offer healthy options.

Construction is slated to begin this October and will be completed within 18 to 24 months. The final destination for this project is a turnpike where service plazas are a destination in their own right, healthy for consumers and the environment alike.