Architecture firm to be asked to revise options while city staff undertakes more research on annual upkeep expenses
The No. 1 complaint from visitors on St. Armands Circle is the lack of public restrooms, Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, told the City Commission this week.
That is “one of the biggest black eyes” for the tony shopping district, she pointed out during the board’s regular meeting on April 16.
To resolve that issue, the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) won unanimous agreement from the commissioners to proceed with planning for public restroom facilities in two of the city’s medians — on John Ringling Boulevard and South Boulevard of the Presidents. However, in accord with the motion by Commissioner Hagen Brody, the BID will ask the architectural firm with which it has worked to incorporate urinals into the design and to work on a revised option of one structure with more stalls instead of the two unisex restroom buildings the BID had proposed.
The motion also called for more research on the part of city staff regarding the expense the city would assume in maintaining public restrooms on the Circle.
In his April 16 report, Gavin Meshad, chair of the BID, told the commissioners that lack of sufficient parking joined the lack of public restrooms as the two major complaints from visitors to the Circle. Fortunately, he said, “we’re moving forward with the parking deck,” a project expected to get underway before the end of April.
The BID has paid for the design of the two unisex public restrooms on the Circle, Meshad told the commission at the beginning of his April 16 presentation, and it is prepared to pay for their construction. With the commission’s approval that day, he said, the BID would proceed with asking Solstice Planning and Architecture to prepare pre-construction and engineering materials — “all the documents necessary to be able to bid the project” — which constitute Phase 2 of the initiative. Phase 3 would entail seeking bids on construction, he added, and the BID has agreed to cover the expense of erecting the facilities.
Solstice created three design options, Meshad pointed out. “All three … were very impressive.”
Although the BID initially considered the potential of using prefabricated restrooms — similar to those at rest stops on interstate highways — those “weren’t aesthetically pleasing,” Meshad said. “We just felt like it was important — this is St. Armands, kind of the jewel of the city — that we did something that enhanced the Circle.”
The Solstice design the BID selected, he continued, has a minimalist profile, and it would provide shade and a seating area.
The new parking garage will have both men’s and women’s restrooms, Meshad continued, so the restrooms the BID is working on would accommodate people too far from the garage to want to use the facilities there.
Each of the buildings Solstice has designed would have two restrooms, Susan Dodd, redevelopment manager for the city, explained to the commissioners.
Expenses and options
When Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked about the $66,320 annual estimate for maintenance and utilities, Jerry Fogle, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department manager, said he based the figure on the amount the city is paying for day porters to attend the restrooms in Payne Park and those at Bayfront Park and the Lido Pavilion. The city covers the expense of a day porter in each location from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, Fogle said, along with the services of a firm to undertake detailed cleaning at night.
In response to further questioning from Freeland Eddie, Fogle said the estimated annual expense for utilities for the two St. Armands Circle restrooms would be $960. He put the water and sewer expense at $8,700 a year and the routine maintenance at $2,750. The day porter cost would be $32,766, he said, with $15,000 estimated per year for the detailed cleaning.
He and his staff feel the City Commission would like to see St. Armands Circle have a high level of service for the public restrooms, Fogle added.
“It’s not about us wanting to provide,” Freeland Eddie replied. “I think we all agree … It’s a matter of cost. … We’re hearing this information for the first time.”
Meshad told her that the BID members envisioned the day porter being able to handle both the public restroom buildings and the facilities in the parking garage.
“Our new model as a city is we’re trying to move toward better maintenance of restrooms, obviously,” City Manager Tom Barwin interjected, “and that’s required the hiring of the porters …” They can respond quickly to any problems that arise, Barwin pointed out.
Additionally, city staff has been working with representatives of Marina Jack to take over the maintenance of the Bayfront Park restrooms, Barwin said, and the company that won the bid last year for the Lido Pavilion concession renovations will be responsible for the restrooms there.
Barwin told the commissioners staff would like to spend more time researching the most cost-effective approach for the St. Armands restrooms.
“I have a small concern about having too many [restrooms] out there,” Commissioner Brody said. “Three, to me, seems like too many.” He first would like to see whether the new facilities in the parking garage would meet the demand before agreeing to the two the BID has proposed, he added.
“I am thinking that, for once, Commissioner Brody and I are on the same page with that,” Commissioner Willie Shaw said with a chuckle. The two board members have voiced conflicting views on a number of issues since Brody joined the commission in May 2017.
“I think that having restrooms in the garage and way on the other side [of the Circle] is probably a good idea,” Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said. Given the number of visitors to the Circle, she added, restrooms in the garage alone likely would not be sufficient.
“The restaurants have been taking the brunt of this on the Circle,” Meshad responded. “It’s getting to be problematic for the restaurants.”
During her public remarks later to the commission, Corrigan of the St. Armands Circle Association concurred.
Dodd, the redevelopment manager, noted the “hundreds of thousands” of people who visit St. Armands every year.
When Brody asked why each building would have just two restrooms, Dodd explained that the goal was for each structure to have a small footprint.
Both structures would be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, Meshad added. Additionally, it is common to see more demand for restrooms from women than men, he said, so the unisex option probably would prevent longer wait times.
Brody countered that having individual men’s and women’s stalls would be better “for cleanliness purposes.”
If the BID ended up constructing just a solitary facility, Meshad replied, he would “probably, absolutely agree” with modifying the design to incorporate more stalls.
When Brody also voiced concern that the design Meshad showed the board did not necessarily fit in with the architectural theme on St. Armands, Meshad told him, “We’ve got really a hodgepodge [of structures] out there.” The design is reminiscent of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Meshad added.
Along with Corrigan of the St. Armands Circle Association, city residents Jim Lampl and Ernest Webb addressed the commission.
Lampl, who said his background was in restroom design, noted that such work is a sub-specialty. St. Armands needs three to four times the number of stalls for women than for men, he pointed out. Furthermore, he said, urinals use less water — and generate less wastewater — than toilets. The city, therefore, would have lower utility costs if urinals were incorporated into the design, he added.
The unisex approach, Corrigan countered, “moves people in and out a little bit quicker.”
She added that business and property owners on the Circle have been talking of options to make the restrooms less expensive to maintain.
Residents have been very much involved in all the discussions, she noted. “We don’t want a huge facility out there. … [A big building] takes away from our aesthetic.”
Webb stated his objection to the proposal for the restrooms, telling the commission he plans to build a house costing $2 million to $3 million on John Ringling Boulevard near the site proposed for one of the facilities. “I am not very enthusiastic about restrooms being at my front door.”
Following the comments, Freeland Eddie said she wanted to see more details about projected expenses, without lowering the level of upkeep for the restrooms.
“We’ll do that,” City Manager Barwin replied.
After Brody made his motion, Freeland Eddie asked Meshad if the direction Brody had offered was all right with the BID.
“I appreciate the comments,” Meshad responded.