New restroom structure makes formal debut at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park

Former county commission cuts ceremonial ribbon during Nov. 8 event

Under a bright blue sky with Roberts Bay — actually part of the Intracoastal Waterway — as a backdrop, former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson used oversized, ceremonial scissors on the morning of Nov. 8 to cut a ribbon at the park renamed for her in September 2015.

Officially, she — and current county leaders — were celebrating the completion of million-dollar project to provide restrooms in Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, with the design itself a reflection of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

“I’m sure many people are going to be happy to see the porta-potties leave,” Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), told the audience assembled on the site just after 9 a.m.

Rissler referenced the popularity of the park, located on what technically is Bay Island, though most visitors — and, more than likely, most residents — think of the land as being on Siesta Key. (The “hump bridge” farther down on Siesta Drive marks the formal demarcation between the islands.)

County Commission Vice Chair Ron Cutsinger, who followed Rissler to the podium, pointed out, “For me, this is a little slice of heaven. I love the view; I love the water.”

Then, adding, “I love history,” Cutsinger proceeded to tell the group gathered under a tent that he had read about the creation of the park, in preparation for the Nov. 8 event.

The Bay Island Siesta Association — with help from the Selby and Community foundations, he noted — paid $60,000 for the land on the north side of Siesta Drive, which the Association ended up giving to the City of Sarasota in 1973. Then, he continued, in 1977, the county purchased the land on the south side of the road, where everyone was assembled that morning. The county paid $120,000 for the nearly 2 acres.

Cutsinger expressed his appreciation for the “forethought … passion and … generosity” that had made the “striking views” of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay available to the public. “It’s a beloved spot for fishing and picnicking,” Cutsinger added of the park.

The structure behind him, he continued, contains two family-style restrooms, as well as a storage area for the park’s maintenance.

Rissler also had noted the observation deck atop the building, which affords views of the surrounding water.

“It’s a great design,” Cutsinger said of the structure.

Rissler explained that Seibert Architects of Sarasota, which handled the design, and the contractor, Stellar Development Inc. of Sarasota, were constrained in their work by the need to utilize as small a footprint as possible, so as to permit most of the park to remain open space.

As county documents further noted, the building had to be elevated about 8 feet above grade, so it would comply with Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) specifications regarding construction in a flood zone.

Though Seibert Architects won the formal, $142,628 design contract in 2019, county staff has attributed the general look of the building to internationally known architect Guy Peterson. On Jan. 25, the County Commission voted unanimously to award the construction bid to Stellar Development, at a cost of $927,740.50. (Among details included on the county fact sheet about the initiative, staff noted that the concrete blocks were coated with a substance used to thwart attempts at graffiti.)

North County Impact Fees and City of Sarasota Park District Impact Fees paid for the project, Rissler said. Both portions of the park are within the city limits, Rissler explained.

Following Cutsinger’s remarks, Rissler introduced the guest of honor, Patterson, who was present with her husband, John. They have lived on the north end of Siesta Key for decades, as Nora Patterson has pointed out.

After offering a simple “Hi” to everyone, Paterson expressed her thanks to those present, including, she noted, a number of people who are not Siesta residents.

In reflecting on her remarks months ago at the February groundbreaking, and recognizing that the Nov. 8 ceremony was being held on Election Day, Patterson said she realized that she had made an omission that she wished to correct: She also wanted to voice her appreciation to “the many voters and taxpayers who support great parks and public places.” Without them, she continued, “This park and others wouldn’t even be possible.”

Then, before Patterson could step away from the podium, Rissler surprised her with a bouquet of flowers and thanked Patterson for her “dedication to the county,” including its 160 parks, “and for being such an advocate for us over the years.”

“I can tell you the people who supported this [undertaking] were really dedicated,” Patterson pointed out of the park improvements. It took a few years, she added, to make the plans a reality.

Finally, taking another turn herself at the podium, Rissler recognized the county’s Capital Projects Department and its director, Carolyn Eastwood, for ensuring the improvements became a reality. In fact, Rissler indicated, until Hurricane Ian struck the state in late September, the project was ahead of schedule.

Along with Cutsinger and Rissler, Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and two of his assistant administrators — Mark Cunningham and Brad Johnson — joined Nora and John Patterson for the final part of the ceremony: Nora Patterson used those oversized scissors to snip the ribbon. Then, cheers rang out in the park.