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Sarasota Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 4 years ago

St. Armands makes its case for public restrooms

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The project could cost more than $200,000, but stakeholders say it’s a priority for the shopping district.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

With a long-awaited parking garage project moving forward, St. Armands Circle property owners and businesses are focused on adding another frequently requested amenity: public restrooms.

The 500 space-parking garage, on which the city hopes to break ground in the spring, will include bathrooms in response to demand from St. Armands stakeholders. But Marty Rappaport, former director of the St. Armands Business Improvement District, thinks one set of bathrooms on North Adams Drive isn’t sufficient to relieve merchants of the burden of the public seeking to use their facilities.

“You’ve got an elderly crowd,” Rappaport said. “If they end up on one end of the Key and need to go to the restroom on the other end, there are a lot of restaurants they’re going to try to get into on the way.”

At a recent St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, the board discussed the potential price of adding those restrooms. Building two two-stall restrooms in medians along John Ringling Boulevard and South Boulevard of the Presidents could cost around $210,000, according to preliminary estimates the city provided.

Steve Stancel, a chief planner with the city, said part of the expense is adding flood protection to the structures and connecting them to the existing infrastructure system. City staff believes the cheapest option for installing the restrooms would be using prefabricated structures from an outside vendor.

Gavin Meshad, chairman of the St. Armands BID, questioned whether the city couldn’t find a local contractor to build the bathrooms for cheaper than the estimated budget. He expressed some concern about the design of the bathrooms the city identified, which prefabricated concrete building company CXT produces.

“My thought is, you might be able to do it for that (estimated cost) or below and design something a little more tailored for what our taste is,” Meshad said.

Meshad echoed Rappaport’s sentiments that the restrooms should be a priority for St. Armands. The BID unanimously directed staff to produce a rendering of a potential public restroom project and continue researching the logistics of actually moving forward with construction.

 Finding funding

Any proposal would need City Commission approval before work could begin. At this point, it is unclear how the city or BID would finance a restroom project.

Rappaport offered one suggestion. He said the city should consider rolling the cost of the project into the budget for the St. Armands parking garage. On Oct. 2, the City Commission approved a $15.5 million budget for that project.

Because St. Armands property owners agreed to a 20-year, $260,000 annual assessment to help pay for the garage, Rappaport said city officials should be more sensitive to the needs of area businesses.

“St. Armands is probably one of the very few who come to the city as a true partner and pick up expenses the city would otherwise try to pick up,” Rappaport said.

Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, rebutted Rappaport’s argument that the city could afford to pay for the public restrooms because the overall budget for the garage project was lower than one staff estimate anticipated.

“While we want to achieve the best facility we can, nobody said, ‘I want you to spend $17.5 million,’” Lyons said. “And I think that would be a pretty irresponsible approach.”

The city is also funding the garage with a paid parking system, to be implemented after the project’s completion in December 2018. Lyons said any excess revenue from paid parking is supposed to be reinvested within St. Armands — which means that could become a potential funding source for the bathrooms in the future.

Still, Rappaport and the BID advocated for a more advanced timeline when it comes to building the bathrooms.

“This is a project that doesn’t have to wait until 2019,” Rappaport said. “It’s something that’s needed so badly.”

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