The Sarasota Farmers Market wants permanent bathrooms downtown for visitors to use, but city staff isn’t enthusiastic about the initial options.
On peak Saturdays in season, when more than 15,000 people travel downtown to attend the Sarasota Farmers Market, Phil Pagano says the event has to contend with a major challenge: inadequate bathroom options.
Pagano, the market’s executive director, said there are a few port-a-potties on the street for visitors to use. He says businesses, including the Sarasota Studio, State of the Arts Gallery, Brick’s Smoked Meats and Mattison’s City Grille, allow market attendees to use their restrooms, but he doesn’t think it’s reasonable to expect stores and restaurants to provide something he considers essential infrastructure.
That’s why, on Feb. 3, Pagano appeared before the City Commission to make an appeal. He asked the board to consider allowing the construction of a public restroom to use when the market and other downtown events are operating and suggested the interior of the State Street parking garage.
“Our information booth, the biggest question every week is: Where are the restrooms?” he said.
Although Pagano’s idea has support from some downtown stakeholders, city staff is skeptical. Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said staff did not support the garage idea because the area Pagano targeted is just beyond the market’s footprint.
Brown also noted that the bathrooms at Mattison’s, located on city-owned property, are open to the public during events per an agreement with the city. The commission was interested in publicizing the availability of those restrooms and suggested posting signs to steer visitors.
Pagano felt that would be an intrusion on the restaurant, and he believes the market is a major event that warrants having its own dedicated restrooms.
Pagano has expressed an interest in opening retail space for the farmers market that offers produce and other products. He said he has explored using a storefront at The Mark building at Lemon Avenue and State Street for that purpose and installing restrooms for market visitors, but funding would be an issue.
Pagano expressed optimism he could find a solution and reiterated his belief he being reasonable.
“We generate over half a million people, $60 million [in economic impact] for downtown,” Pagano said. “We don’t ask for a lot.”