The path forward in the Lido Pool plan

Editor & Publisher

We are so goal oriented in our culture. We want results and we want them sooner than yesterday. I want that for myself, my family and while I am at it, for the Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion.

My eight-year-old started tennis lessons and the coach walks over and has a thick Spanish accent. I tried to impress on him that I want my son to develop the Rafa Nadal forehand, but to train him to move a little more gracefully like Federer.

“How long will that take?” I ask.

I have the same sense of urgency relative to the outcome of the Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion. The applicants, who sought to develop a 250-seat waterfront restaurant and bar on the site, said through attorney Bill Merrill two weeks ago that they wish to withdraw the application and terminate the lease. The caveat is they will do that only in trade for money and expenses spent mainly on attorneys.

In a sense you have to leave it to an attorney to argue with a straight face the sentiment of: ”While nobody in the community wants us, can you please pay me and us a fee to go away? That will be a good deal for everyone involved.”

Of course the subtext is: “If you do not, we will litigate and that will cost you more — so might as well pay the fee.”

For those without a law degree we call that extortion. But in the world of litigation, it’s an everyday calculation. It reminds me of an attorney friend who listened to another freind’s long-winded complaints about a relationship he was in at the time. He smiled wryly, looked through the window of his BMW and just before hitting the gas tells the guy out the window, “It is like I advise everyone: Is the screwing you are getting worth the screwing you are getting?”

Attorneys are bred and trained to get both clients and opponents in those most vulnerable positions.


The many modes of misdirection

Before we start debating the merit of paying the attorneys for the Lido Pool and Pavilion out of taxpayer’s funds, let’s look at the much more relevant issue: where do we want to go with this and what do we want the City commission to approve and support going forward?

On its face, that seems simple. But the path forward is fraught with proverbial rabbit holes, tiki bars and drunken ideation.

For instance, I spoke with one influential community member last week who said, “I am so relieved that plan is going away; nobody wants it. You know what we ought to do? Something like at the beach in Punta Gorda. And we should really have a splash pad; I still want to see a splash pad installed.”

Then the next day a woman totally opposed to the plan says, “Those Daiquiri Deck scoundrels deserve nothing. They knew the risk.”

I was worried that she was prematurely celebrating her victory and showing off her muscles to the crowd. I was worried by her tone.

Then she added, ”What we really need to do is tear the whole Pavilion down and start fresh with an architecturally-significant structure.”

She said she has many renderings of things gleaned from the Internet from “major important architects.”

Then I spoke with yet another resident. His conspiratorial tone and age told me he was straight out of the grassy knoll era with an even heftier dose of Nixon and the ability to see a pending Saturday Night Massacre in everything.

“Steve: do not think this is over. First off, (City Manager Tom) Barwin wants to use that $1.25 million for one of his pet projects. I hear he already committed it to one of the Commissioners and they have an agreement. Why do you think he has been so opposed to this all along? And don’t think that the applicants are not just setting this up. And you know what Mark Walsh wants, don’t you?”

I thought that it takes extreme intelligence and powers of execution to pull off major conspiracies. I thought that as horrible as the behavior of Nixon was, he was certainly a blend of paranoia and extreme intelligence. That gave two reasons for me to believe that Barwin was not up to something.


Where digression meets regression…

This digression is to make it clear we have to keep the process simple and straightforward. We do not need community soul searching. We do not need citizen meetings to debate how we feel about the pool relative to the kitchen layout relative to the concessionaire’s offerings.

What we need our Commission and City staff to follow through on are the simple edicts that have been constant in this process:

• Repair and renovate the bathrooms

• Fix the roof and repair the principal structure.

• Add a shade structure or canopy over the concession tables

• Fix the pool deck

And perhaps add the parking spaces the applicant identified could be gained by restriping the parking lot.

In other words the City needs to perform 101 of park maintenance. That is Job 1.

If we start to impose our list of dreams, if we start to talk about the viability of the pool or the side of the roll that should get the mayo on the Lobster roll, we will open trap doors that will take us through the looking glass like a James Joyce novel on a commodius vicus of recirculation right back to the beginning.

And that beginning has no end.


When less is more

I spoke with City Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle last Friday. He is eager to renovate the existing building starting with the restrooms and the roof. He said the $1.25 million in the budget is what the City refers to as Penny Dollars and was raised when voters approved a referendum taxing themselves for capital improvements to infrastructure on Lido Key. This is what was anticipated and needs to be done. He said he never got cost estimates on the work because the City was involved in the other process — the deal with the Daiquiri Deck boys.

So that is part two. In addition to keeping the repairs simple and the City Commission instructing staff to rehab the Pavilion much the way it just rehabilitated Payne Park, the City needs to offer Fogle the resources and clear direction to make the repairs. The Commission ought not micro manage this process. Let the Park Director fix up the park. Less is more when it comes to governance in this scenario as we have witnessed over the past two years.


A pack of cats in heat

As for paying the Daiquiri Deck owners an unspecified amount (likely around $175,000) to agree to terminate the lease and withdraw their plan, I reluctantly put this in the “hold your nose and make it happen” category.

The problem is the applicant was originally encouraged by the homeowners association in the initial phase of the Intent to Negotiate, which is the process or solicitation they responded to and initiated by the City.

Secondly, the City staff and City Manager Tom Barwin looked like a team of professional rowers in both bed and boat with the applicants. They gave lenient and questionable interpretations on every aspect of the zoning code, transportation and parking requirements, the lease constraints and provisions. You would think Barwin was trying to lure Amazon to the Pavilion site by his behavior. The entire staff acted like so many cats in heat for the plan.

And then there was the City Commission.

Commissioners Hagan Brody and Liz Alpert were astonishing. It was as if they cut off their ears and refused to listen to their own constituents and community.

I remember saying to Liz Alpert that I think the issue is many families with young children did not want a hard liquor scene next to a splash pool on public property at the beach. She responded, ”It sounds like fun to me; the parents could have something to do.”

I thought how horrific. My commissioner’s vision is to subsidize I-ride, get loaded at a beachfront bar at the Lido Pavilion and then trip over small children as they look for mommy and daddy at the bar.

And Brody made as little sense. On one hand, he has championed the City taking over, fixing and updating Payne Park and the tennis facility and even offered his grand vision for a future Center Court and an additional 8 courts at Payne Park. But then at Lido he has none of it. He told the thousands opposed that they would learn to like it once it was built. He reduced their issues to “fear of change and the new” and other platitudes and dismissives.

Our champions on the Commission in this debacle have been Jen Ahern Koch and then later Willie Shaw.

And this brings us to Mark Walsh. Walsh owns the Lido Beach Resort and several other resorts and hotels on Lido, Longboat and throughout the area. He said one of his big issues is he does not want noise from a bar impacting his guests. And realize all of the other buildings surrounding the beach pavilion are residential. They want the noise even less than Walsh.

So Walsh offers to give the City up to $175,000 as a gift toward repairing the Pavilion if the applicant withdraws the lease and if the City renovates the park and maintains control over the site and does not lease the property to a private operator.

In essence, Walsh is willing to take the financial sting out of the situation. Given that, I say the City staff and Commission is in a moment in time. They should accept Walsh’s gift and negotiate with the applicants the least reasonable amount of fees applicable. We should give them a small gesture to go away — think of it as an expensive bus ticket off the site. But this cannot turn into some divorce with a massive payout.

The City should pay them somewhere close to $75,000 in fees that have to be shown and justified.

Given the attraction Brody and Alpert have for the Daiquiri Deck owners, I believe Shellie Freeland Eddie will be a tough auditor of true attorney costs. Not some padded amount.

The City should pay them the money and in tandem accept the terms and nail down the gift from Mark Walsh.

In that sense, the City would be ahead about $75,000. Walsh would not have to worry about the noise and will be remembered as someone who helped shepherd us out of a nasty situation.

To be real, the applicant can still move foreward and seek approval of the Major Conditional Use and all of this could fall apart. That is why they need to be paid to go away. And we need to keep it simple.


Visions of grandeur

And by the way, that does not mean there should not be a long-range vision of something grander for the site. But that vision can shape up while the Parks Department fixes the site in real time.

A Visioning group can work to explore whether the pool makes sense. Its members can deconstruct the merits of splash pads and can peruse architectural renderings of superior structures that give some Pavilion envy. They can even talk about bonding future Pavilion plans from paid beach parking.

But while that is happening, let Fogle and his team tackle the humble task of rehabbing what we’ve got.

Look at what happened at the Colony on Longboat Key.

Even a plastic surgeon ready to run up your bill with augmentations, lifts and fillers will tell you cancer must be treated, broken bones healed and the underlying tissue made healthy before you can construct your next vision.

Finally, we must always be wary of groups and committees in government and in life: A Committee is where you send ideas and people to slowly die.

The community worked hard to get back to where we are. Let’s move this forward.

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