The Sarasota County Commission is not getting the point on the Siesta Key Public Beach renovations.
The most pressing issue for the continuation of the beach’s success is parking. Parking is required for visitors to get to the beach and enjoy it in such a way that they will want to come back again and again.
The experience should be all good. But without adequate parking, it cannot be. All other efforts to attract visitors will be undermined with the current parking shortage.
A recent survey of Siesta Key Beach users found the most important changes they wanted was parking and restrooms. Go to the beach around noon, and it will be obvious why.
But in its pre-vacation flurry of decisions last week, commissioners approved the first phase of a plan that, in later phases, would actually reduce the number of parking spaces at the beach. The plan does nothing for parking but includes building new restrooms, concession area and retail shops, relocating the public-safety building so it is less prominent at the entrance, resurfacing the parking lot and making improvements to sidewalks and landscaping.
These will all be great improvements. But they are not the top priority. If visitors can see what the most important issue is — and they are the market — then the County Commission ought to be able to see it. But they have the restrooms first. And a planned esplanade walkway is called for in phase three of the renovations, which would not start until 2019. That would take about 100 parking spaces out of the configuration.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta is dreaming if he thinks that a Siesta Key trolley system is going alleviate the parking needs. Sarasota is not a mass-transit community by nature. And for visitors, a trolley adds a level of complication that would not reflect well on their experience. They will likely drive to the beach and troll the lanes, waiting for a parking space to open up. Further, the trolley grant money — should it actually arrive — is not due until 2014.
This should not have been a hard decision. You don’t need the bathroom if you cannot find a place to park. And waiting for a space each day of your visit is an aggravation we don’t want to give tourists we are hoping to attract for return visits.
+ Getting the Village point
The County Commission made the right choice in allowing Siesta Key Village property owners to retain control of the maintenance of the new Village landscaping.
The county’s former finance director had suggested the county take over maintenance, but that would have been a disaster for Village business owners. They would have the higher assessment fees they volunteered to pay, but control would have been given back to the county — which is absorbed in scandals in procurement.
The Village is expected to get a new maintenance contractor in the fall and more accountability can be written into that contract.