New parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key leased to Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce for business employee parking

County Commission unanimously approves agreement

Editor’s note: This article was modified early in the afternoon of April 1 to make it clear that County Engineer Spencer Anderson told Siesta Key Association members last fall that the construction of the parking lot was expected to get underway by September 2021.

A county graphic shows the location of the parking lot site at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On a unanimous vote, in approving their March 29 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the Sarasota County commissioners agreed to lease a new county parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key to the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber initially will pay $19,350 a year, according to the formal commission resolution. That agreement “allows for four additional one-year renewals with approval of [the county],” the resolution adds. The fee would increase by 3.5% each year, it says.

The resolution the board members approved calls for the Siesta Chamber to be responsible for all maintenance of the parking lot, including tree and shrub pruning, upkeep of the irrigation system, and regular removal of trash and debris.

Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, had noted the prospect of the deal during comments in September 2021 to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members.

Anderson also reported at that time that construction of the parking lot was expected to get underway by mid-September 2021.

During the March 29 County Commission meeting, Siesta Chamber Director Gabe Garcia, owner of Miguel’s restaurant on the southern portion of the island, addressed the board members during the Open to the Public portion of the morning session, asking them to approve the lease. He pointed to the critical demand for employee parking in the southern commercial area of the Key.

On June 3, 2020, the County Commission approved the plans for the parking lot, which would be built on county property.

This is the final engineering drawing for the parking lot at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

However, during the public hearing that day, residents of nearby developments protested the proposal for the public to use the spaces. A number talked about visitors to the beach trespassing on private land as those persons try to reach Crescent Beach.

Only two public beach accesses are in the vicinity of the parking lot site, and neither is close to it, speakers stressed.

As a result of those concerns, Commissioner Alan Maio was the first board member to suggest that perhaps the county could lease the parking lot to the businesses in the adjacent commercial area.

Then-Commissioner Charles Hines cited the need for the parking spaces, but he added, “We’re not hindered from [leasing the lot] down the road.”

During his March 29 remarks, Garcia of Miguel’s pointed out, “On Siesta Key, parking is a premium to employees struggling every day to find parking.”

“Over the last year or so,” Garcia added,” past Chamber Chair Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, had talked with county staff about the concept of making the facility an employee parking lot.

During the May 2020 Planning Commission public hearing on the county’s plans for the facility, Tush testified about the desperate need for employee parking, as well as spaces for patrons of the businesses, in what is called the South Village portion of the Key.

Clayton Thompson addresses the County Commission in October 2021. File image

Clayton Thompson, owner of Clayton’s Siesta Grille on Old Stickney Point Road, added, “The parking situation … is dire. … I’m told time and time again by my customers” that they cannot find spaces to park, Thompson continued, so they just drive on by his restaurant.

Seven businesses, including Miguel’s, already have been “working with the Chamber to use the parking.” Garcia told the commissioners this week.

In concluding his remarks, Garcia noted that Tush had asked him to extend Tush’s special thanks to Chair Maio and members of the county staff with whom Tush had worked on the initiative.

As is typical with remarks made during an Open to the Public period, the commissioners did not respond to Garcia.

The parking lot, which comprises 0.54 acres, has 43 parking spaces.

The site formerly was home to a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office training facility. After the agency relocated to its headquarters on Cattleridge Boulevard in Sarasota, in the latter part of 2017, it consolidated operations and no longer had use for the building on that portion of the parcel.

Commissioner Maio was the board member who first broached the idea of a parking lot on that county property. He also had envisioned the potential of adding a passenger loading/unloading spot for the Siesta Key Breeze trolley.

During a February 2017 County Commission discussion, Maio recommended that the parcel remain in county ownership, instead of being listed as surplus property, for sale, after the Sheriff’s Office no longer needed the training building. “That [property], I would say, may be our last and only opportunity for a parking lot on Siesta” or for a turnaround area for a trolley or bus,” Maio told his colleagues.

A county Public Utilities Department building on the property at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road conceals a water tank. File photo

A building on the eastern section of the property holds a Public Utilities Department water tank. Recently, Mike Mylett, director of that department, talked with the commissioners about staff’s plans to rehabilitate the tank, whose water tightness has been in question, or replacing it. That project was among those the County Commission has approved for funding through a fourth iteration of its penny sales tax — or Surtax — program, if voters agree to that during a referendum that will be part of the November General Election ballot.

Commissioner Maio also has noted that a number of utility lines are located underground on the site.