Siesta Chamber and Village business leaders formally ask County Commission to pay for and construct public restrooms in Siesta Village

Commission Chair Maio tells them, ‘Be patient’

Three people — including the chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce — formally asked the Sarasota County Commission this week to construct public restrooms in Siesta Key Village.

In his remarks, Todd Morton, owner of Morton’s Siesta Market and Siesta Village Liquors, pointed out, “My businesses are located directly across Canal Road” from Beach Bazaar. The Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which recently celebrated its millionth rider, “stops right in front of our market every half hour, providing potential customers to our business, dropping ’em right on our doorstep,” Morton explained.

“The byproduct of this, though,” he pointed out, “is the need for restrooms when these passengers arrive … or when they’re waiting to board …” Morton cited the “onslaught of people looking for restrooms,” not only in his businesses, but in others nearby, such as the Broken Egg, the Beach Club, Beach Bazaar and Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill.

Furthermore, Morton noted, “When the nearby beach accesses empty out for the day,” after sunset, “the hunt for restrooms is in full swing.”

He added that while he was not speaking officially for other business owners, “It’s hard to imagine that any of the owners and employees [of the businesses] that currently bear the burden of providing public restrooms would disagree with me.”

“It makes perfect sense to move on this sooner than later,” Morton told the commissioners, “before the tidal wave of high season arrives.”

Moreover, he pointed out, the owners of Beach Bazaar are willing to donate land for the restrooms.

Then Wendall Jacobsen, general manager of Beach Bazaar, which stands at 5211 Ocean Blvd., reminded the commissioners about the business’ donation of land years ago for the construction of the gazebo at the four-way stop in Siesta Village. That donation took place around 2009-2010, he noted, in support of the Village beautification project that the county funded.

“With the overwhelming demand and need for public restrooms in the Village,” Jacobsen continued, Beach Bazaar would like to work with the county once again — this time, on the public restroom project.

The third person to address the commission on the topic was Mike Gatz, manager of Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill and the Siesta Chamber chair. He noted the results of a survey that the Chamber recently conducted, seeking public responses on the public restroom issue.

The Chamber had sent the commissioners a letter on Aug. 17 with all of those results, Gatz pointed out.

Of the 589 responses, he continued, 512 — 87% — expressed support for public restrooms in Siesta Village.

Moreover, Gatz noted, the Chamber staff routinely polls walk-ins at its offices in Davidson Plaza. Out of 5,223 people who visited the office, he said, 2,089 “inquired about a public restroom.”

Yet, Gatz pointed out, “The nearest public restroom to Siesta Key Village is down at the public beach.” The lack of a public facility in the Village, he added, is “an ever-growing problem as we get busier and busier out there.”

The Village is the island’s economic engine, Gatz pointed out. “We’re not seeking a palace,” but modest accommodations, he said. Two restrooms that comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements “would do the trick,” Gatz told the commissioners. “I feel like this is something that we probably could get done,” he added, and it needs to be done.

The Aug. 17 letter to the commissioners explained, “The owners of the Beach Bazaar … have generously volunteered to donate a portion of their property to be used for the public restrooms. While the design of the facilities is not finalized, we envision two ADA compliant stalls with hand washing sinks and baby changing tables, similar to restroom facilities on Legacy Trail.”

Although the commissioners typically do not respond to the individuals who speak during the Open to the Public period, — as the three men did on Aug. 30 — Chair Alan Maio told Gatz, “Just be patient,” adding that he believes it took about two years for county staff to launch the trolley service on the island after business leaders began discussing that issue with commissioners.

(During the March 20, 2017 gathering of county commissioners, county staff and Siesta Chamber representatives for the official kickoff of the trolley’s runs, Jacobsen joked to The Sarasota News Leader, “It’s only taken seven years” for that day to arrive, referencing Chamber leaders’ advocacy for the trolley in discussions with commissioners.)

“Just be patient,” Maio reiterated his remark to Gatz on Aug. 30.

In late June, Siesta Key architect Mark Smith, chair-elect of the Chamber — and a Republican candidate for the District 2 County Commission seat this year — told the News Leader that he does not believe the county commissioners are opposed to the idea of a public restroom in Siesta Village. However, Smith added, when he discussed the issue about six weeks earlier with Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson, Johnson told him that the county had no funding for such a project. Smith suggested to Johnson, Smith continued, that perhaps the funds could come out of the county’s penny sales tax — or Surtax — revenue, if the extension of that program wins voter approval on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Details of the Surtax IV plans are available on the county’s website. While 25% of the revenue automatically goes to the Sarasota County School Board, the rest of the money is divvied up among the county and all of the municipalities. The Surtax IV program would begin on Jan. 1, 2025 and continue for 15 years, if voters approve it this fall.

Additionally, Smith told the News Leader in late June that, as an architect, he believes that the public restroom structure would not necessarily need to be elevated to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations regarding the elevation of buildings to a certain height above base flood level, to try to prevent water damage in the event of hurricanes and other storm events.

The restroom building could have a metal roof and two unisex restrooms, Smith noted. Those features would keep the cost down, he pointed out.

The Chamber letter

As a supporter of the Siesta Chamber’s efforts to see that public restrooms are constructed in Siesta Village, the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) sent out an email blast to its members on Aug. 25. That featured the Aug. 17 letter that Gatz referenced in his Aug. 30 public comments.

That letter pointed out of the Chamber survey, “Although presented in a humorous manner, the issue of public restrooms on Siesta Key is a real and valid concern. The Siesta Key Chamber and Visitor Center documents visitor data and shares the following: In 2021 we welcomed 5223 walk-in visitors with an average of 40% or 2089 inquiring about restrooms per year, which is about 5-6 per day.”

The letter included the survey questions and results:

Do you know what the #1 and #2 (no pun intended) most frequently asked question in Siesta Key Village is?

Q: Where is your public restroom?

A: I’m sorry, we don’t have one, but there are bathrooms at the public beach, which is only about 1 mile away.

Survey Results: 589 survey participants (Chamber business members, visitor center volunteers, walk-in visitors, Siesta Key Condo Council and Siesta Key Association)

512 (87%) YES, I fully support the Chamber’s efforts to encourage Sarasota County to fund, implement and maintain public restrooms in Siesta Key Village.

77 (13%) No, I think this is a crappy idea and do not believe public restrooms are a necessity.”

The letter concluded, “On behalf of the Siesta Key Chamber Board of Directors we request that the County Commission approve County funds to be allocated to design, build, and maintain this project. We believe this would be a good match for a Surtax funded project.”