Lido pavilion plan bad business for Sarasota

Editor & Publisher

We need to start addressing what could best be called the City of Sarasota Syndrome.

It is characterized by a series of bad planning decisions, a cry that there is not enough money to really do anything special in the community and after spinning like a late night drunk in a parking lot, the city in a stupor of indecision heaves the problem onto the so-called efficient private sector.

Take the Sarasota Bayfront Plan.

And now here we go again.

Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be enough money to pay for deferred maintenance at the Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion. Residents want the bathrooms repaired, shading in front of the concession area and the pool to be better maintained. But as soon as the city interfaces with the residents — the syndrome strikes.

It is characterized by lacking the ability, agility and resources to plan for something — like the Bayfront acreage surrounding the Van Wezel. And the solution is always the same easy out, the city absolves itself from ownership of the problem and tries to foist what it cannot handle onto the private sector at the long-term cost to its very own residents.


Today’s discrimination is economic

Let’s look at the Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion.

At the entrance stands a sign that talks about how the beach was once segregated. After years of struggle in the last century, the beach became open to blacks and all Sarasota residents.

Think of what that means and meant — the idea and value that a beach is open to all — rich, poor and of any color. It is intrinsically important to understand the transformation that occurred and the ongoing value to avoid every and all types of discrimination.

Unfortunately, although we are now far more politically correct, we suffer from the most pervasive type of discrimination — economic discrimination. And nowhere is that more apparent than along the waterfront.


Food subsidies

The lucky ones in Florida get to live on the beach — the rest get to visit the beach.

Unfortunately, if the City of Sarasota takes the very same Lido Beach that once was so full of hateful racial discrimination and hands it over to a private waterfront restaurant — that type of discrimination will occur.

Let’s face it: the public beach is one of the few places a family can go for free in Sarasota, enjoy a cheap drink and hot dog and spend the day living the good life.

If the city’s proposal to lease part of the public beach to create a privately owned 200-seat restaurant goes through, that low-cost concession stand experience will immediately transform. We will be creating in the city yet another shameful act of leasing public land at a subsidized price — 2.5 acres for less than $8,000 per month — to allow an operator to set up waterfront dining.

And guess what? There will be no $5 hamburgers and $1.50 ice teas. No, the broke families will have to find parking and walk past the very restaurant that sits on land that in part belongs to them.


The great equalizer — the beach

I feel like I have had a lucky life. I live in Lido Shores and can eat when and where I want and have my own private beach with a clicker. But it was not always that way. When I was a kid getting some Chinese take-out once in a while was a big deal. We did not live on the water and it was all the more difficult because a lot of families around mine were loaded with old money. I grew up in Sag Harbor.

But going to the public beach was a refuge. It was the great equalizer. All the dads and moms and kids were just there having fun. When we went to the concession stand it was a cheap place where the broke families as well as the millionaires lined up for soft serve and a hot dog.

To create a place where half of the Sarasota population has to detour because they will not be able to linger in the beachside restaurant is simply not a fair equation with public property. That is fine at the Longboat Key Club, or the Ritz or any other private location. It is fine that most of the world has to drive past the stately homes on the way to the beach.

But the beach itself should not be a place of economic segregation. It is a place many fought hard to even have the right to enjoy. Let’s not allow our public servants to award lucrative leases that forget more than half of the city resident’s interests.


The crux of the problem

And as residents, we need to realize there may be a lack of vision, leadership and capability in the very core of the city and its operation.

Unfortunately, public-private partnerships often amount to essentially the reverse of the Harris Act — we give away what is in the public domain. We give away what is finite, what belongs to all of the people and is for the general enjoyment of the public and mortgage it off. Then that private entity milks the public teat forever more.

How did our city devolve into such a state of hopelessness that it can barely man parking meters without losing money and simultaneously undermining the very business community they think they are helping?

If you read back over stories published and watch the city commission’s action, you realize that is the same pattern.

They have a budget shortfall and can’t figure out how to enhance the aging facility. They don’t really have any ideas and are too weak-spirited to use property taxes to raise the necessary money to pay for the necessary repairs.

And that is really the crux of the problem.

They are trying to run a lean machine, but that machine does not work on cheap gasoline.

If you want to solve homelessness; if you want to solve traffic; if you want to build beautiful beach pavilions and pools and pedestrian city centers, it takes money — it takes critical investment.

The city is solving the beach pavilion proposal using business as usual. It created a process to solicit a private group to provide a plan for its own property.

Now the city is ready to hand over the keys to the Lido Beach Pavilion and pool to the Daiquiri Deck owners. All of this because the city refuses to muster the strength to tax accordingly and pay for what it should do.

The city should not devolve into being nothing more than transactional brokers ready to outsource public assets.

I hope before we turn over more assets such as the Lido Beach Pavilion and certainly any component of the 42 acres along the Sarasota Bayfront, we truly have done our own long-range planning as a city.

We cannot do reactive planning. By that I mean the “we have let this situation go to hell through deferred maintenance and lack of planning and now we need the private sector to bail us out” syndrome.

Solving pool maintenance, restroom repair and concession stand problems by mortgaging off a critical asset of a community is hardly what anyone elected this commission to accomplish.

Tags: ,

Longboat Key News

2 Responses for “Lido pavilion plan bad business for Sarasota”

  1. John Schumacher says:

    The public beach facilities are so outdated and basically just unattractive. The geniuses who built the Lido Beach Casino in the late 1930’s knew what they were doing. Who let that turn into a junk pile to be torn down. Personally, I think we should get the original plans and rebuild the pavilion just as it was and never again allow something so unique and beautiful to be left uncared.

  2. Dana Rickard says:

    Repair concession, pool, and bathrooms…..but leave it as it is……we do not want a big restaurant on our beach!

Leave a Reply