Negotiations underway with management of adjacent building
As the Sarasota County Fire Department prepares for the rebuilding of Station 13 on Siesta Key, county staff has been negotiating for temporary space in the building standing at 5700 Midnight Pass Road, to keep the firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMTs) close to their current location.
That was news Fire Chief Michael Regnier provided about 30 members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) during their regular meeting on Aug. 1.
A sign in front of the 5700 Midnight Pass Road structure advertises space for lease, noting the availability of units ranging from 960 to 1,400 square feet and the “Great Parking.”
The plan, Regnier said, is to begin construction of the new, two-story fire facility in the spring of 2020. “It’ll take about 12 months to build the station.”
And, he noted with a smile, “It will have a fire pole.”
“We are in the process of going out to bid on the fire station,” Regnier told the audience.
In the meantime, he continued, if negotiations with the broker for the building to the immediate south of the fire station proved successful, the county would remodel space in that structure to accommodate the staff assigned to Station 13 and keep the fire and rescue equipment out front.
The firefighters are not worried about having to adjust to the temporary quarters, he added. “That’s not an issue, as far as inconvenience.”
The new station, he said, will be designed with a smaller footprint. Although he had no renderings to show the SKA members that evening, Regnier pointed out that a public meeting will be held on Aug. 20; then, residents will be able to learn more about the plans. He would provide the meeting details to the SKA board, he added, so its leaders could let members know the time and location.
The new facility on Siesta will be similar to the two-story fire station at 3110 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, Regnier said, as well as the one on U.S. 41 near the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall, which stands at 8821 S. Tamiami Trail.
“Those are the size concept,” he added, of the new Station 13.
The façade will be designed to blend in well with the county beach park facilities, Regnier noted.
He welcomed visitors at the facilities on Bee Ridge Road and South Tamiami Trail, so people can get an idea of how the new Siesta station will look.
Keeping the same site
“What you have today is what you’ll have forever and into the future,” Regnier continued, referring to the property where Station 13 stands. “We found out that location is the best suited place for Siesta Key. … We can get to everywhere on Siesta Key within a timely fashion … and that’s very important to us.”
Nonetheless, Siesta property owner and manager Michael Holderness asked whether the Fire Department staff had considered putting the new station closer to Glebe Park, adding that it would be quieter in that spot at night for the firefighters and EMTs trying to sleep. Moreover, Holderness indicated, the county could make a lot of money by selling the Station 13 site, given its proximity to Siesta Public Beach. “It’s such a valuable piece of property,” Holderness added.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s office lists the value of the land this year at $2,844,100. According to the record for that parcel, the county has owned the site since June 1950.
“We do a lot of GIS mapping,” Regnier replied, referring to the Geographical Information System software the county uses. The goal, Regnier explained, “is to get you the best level of service. … It’s actually a very, very good location” for Station 13, he added of the parcel at 1170 Beach Road.
Fire Department staff had considered a number of different locations on the Key, Regnier continued. “The place where [the station] is today is the perfect setup for where it needs to be.”
However, if a parking garage were built on that site, Holderness countered, “that could reduce traffic” on the island.
Regnier replied, with a smile, that he stays out of political discussions.
Other facets of the plans
During a question-and-answer session after Regnier concluded his remarks, SKA Director Joyce Kouba asked whether the county would maintain the public access to the beach through the fire station property while construction of the new facility is underway.
As of his appearance at the Aug. 1 meeting, Regnier said, no site plan had been completed to show how that access would be affected. He did explain that that is an easement. In early discussions about the siting of the new facility, Regnier continued, staff considered placing the fire station “a little bit more to the left,” but that would have put it partly on the easement.
In response to a question from an audience member, Regnier said that the new station would not have a public meeting room on the second floor. “I would love to have a community room in all fire stations,” he added. However, he and his staff take into consideration not only the proximity of other public facilities but also “the best functionality for the fire stations.”
On another point raised by an audience member, Regnier explained that if a hurricane is approaching the Southwest Florida coast and an evacuation is ordered for Siesta Key, Fire Station 13 is closed. The crews retreat to a station inland, he continued. Depending upon changes in the storm forecast, he added, the command may be given for the Station 13 group and others to move even further inland, “synonymous with the evacuations that happen.”
“The [new] fire station needs to be built,” he said, so it will be standing after the storm has passed. People coming back onto Siesta will need to have fire support, he pointed out.
After Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Panhandle last year, he noted, the Sarasota County Fire Department sent about 80 firefighters to Mexico Beach, one of the hardest-hit areas.
“There was no fire station left [in that community],” Regnier said. “They needed a fire station set up. … We created a temporary fire department for them.”
If Siesta were struck by a hurricane, he added, the Fire Department would “want to help the community get back to functionality as soon as possible.”