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Will Lido Pool Plan take dive?

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

As the opposition to a proposed Lido Beach pavilion and restaurant plan grows, so does the effort by city staff to buttress the viability of the proposal as a Monday afternoon vote nears.

From the point of view of staff, the city has worked as a go between listening to the Lido Key Residents Association and the desires of the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners who wish to build a 200-seat restaurant and embellish the site.

Staff maintains that the lease will be beneficial to the city and has added several supporting documents to a lengthy commission packet prior to a vote on the lease that is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20 in Sarasota City Commission Chambers.

But for residents the lease represents not only a bad deal financially in its terms, but more importantly will diminish the accessibility and beauty and quiet residential ambiance of the current beach pavilion that has served the community for more than 60 years.

In addition to residents protests, Sarasota attorney John Patterson has performed a line-by-line analysis of the lease and has found what he calls numerous flaws and issues that put into question both the proposition as well as the policy.

Adding to the pressure on the commission, is the fact that the City Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee held a meeting Thursday evening and unanimously voted to request that the city does not move forward with the lease and that it sends the project back to the planning stage to fit in a park and recreation master plan that is currently underway.

Lido Key Residents Association President Carl Shoffstall has said he has not found anyone who is happy with the lease agreement and that that feeling was also true of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee that he sits on.

Two parts of the lease have come into question and that is the duration and the amount paid by the proposed operator. Under the lease that will be voted on, the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners would make a series of improvements on the 2.5 acres that the pavilion and pool are currently situated on. These improvements include remodeling restrooms, adding a shaded restaurant seating area that would be covered with a fabric roof, as well as creating an event lawn in which the Partners could hold weddings, festivals and other events.

The lease as written, is for a 10-year term with two additional 10-year options that are at the sole discretion of the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners. The Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners is led by Daiquiri Deck co-owner Troy Syprett. The Partners plan to operate a 200-seat restaurant in the existing concession area and they propose to expand the hours to 10:30 p.m. nightly. Also in the lease agreement is the development by the Redevelopment Partners of a Tiki Bar that would be able to serve alcohol as well to 10:30 p.m.

Currently, the concession stand closes at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open until 7 p.m. on weekends. The lease would allow the bar and restaurant to remain open five-and-a-half hours later to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays as well as weekends.

The vote was supposed to occur two weeks ago, but Commissioner Willie Shaw was absent from the meeting, leaving only four city commissioners in attendance. It takes a vote of at least four of the five commissioners agreeing to a lease for it to go into effect.

For attorney Patterson, he wrote that it is not wise to tie up 2.5 acres that is the heart of the city’s only beach for 30 years over a capital shortfall of slightly more than $2 million.

The master plan that was developed between the Lido Key Residents Association and the city shows that it would take about $3.2 million to not only renovate the facility but to add a shade structure, which is one of the main desires of the neighbors.

The city has $1.2 million already allocated to redevelop and renovate the site, but that money is being eyed to go to other projects if the lease goes through.

In 2015, the Daiquiri Deck owners who later became the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners responded to an Invitation To Negotiate and have since that time gone back and forth with the city developing their plans as well as the lease. Initially, the Redevelopment Partners sought more than 300 seats at the restaurant and proposed a mini put-put golf course but have since scaled it back following public pressure.

For Lido Key property owner Mark Walsh, the idea does not make sense for the community.

Walsh said, “I like development but I believe this is the wrong place to forever change an historic beachfront use. We only have one public beach in an area where we are fighting very hard right now working hand in hand with the city to save all the beaches on Lido Key. It’s not like we are Clearwater Beach, which has a large commercial beachfront. We have a beautiful, quiet, family beach, which the tourists love and it sits next to a lot of residential neighborhoods who don’t want this. We only have 308 beach parking spaces and for a city of 53,000 people that’s not enough. Especially the way this area is growing, and in five to 10 years it will be very tough to get a spot on a busy day. We need to save these beach spaces for people going to the beach. I’m confident there are other ways to fix up the beachfront pavilion without losing what makes this beach special. I believe the commission will give this decision careful consideration.”

Attorney Patterson in an analysis has found that the creation of a facility consisting of a restaurant and bar is not a family-oriented product and is completely “inconsistent with the Invitation To Negotiate.”

Some residents have suggested that the city should undertake creating a facility that would be a first-class destination for Lido Beach. Recently, Siesta Beach and its pavilion were completely renovated through public money, and the entire parking lot was landscaped and reconfigured. Among the suggestions is the idea of working with Sarasota County for the use of county tax dollars; exploring concession for beach chairs, beach services and charges for parking.

According to Assistant City Manager John Lege, the commission is not bound in any way to vote yes or approve the lease at Monday’s meeting. He confirmed to Longboat Key News that it will take a minimum of four commissioners to agree to the lease. He said that if the commission does not approve the lease, staff will seek direction and the process will more or less start over.

Lege did say that the commission in good faith should at this point not vote on the lease and attempt to open up the negotiation with any other vendor, but should decide on Monday if this is what it wants to see at the Lido Pavilion site.

If the city commission does not approve the lease on Monday, and yet still wishes to make improvements to the park and pavilion, the normal method the city uses is to add the pool and pavilion to the city Capital Improvement Plan and then the cost and funding of that plan would be determined.

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