Lido Pavilion makeover leaves bathrooms for last

Thirteen years after residents urged an upgrade – and two years since it finally began – beach restrooms are still ‘seriously disgusting’

Walking Lido Beach daily, I’ve noted the progress of the renovation of the Lido Pavilion over the past two years, following the cancellation of the city’s contract with a private investor whose plan to make it a destination restaurant was ultimately quashed by public push back.

In fact, it was two years ago next month that I wrote a column headlined “Controversy over, it’s past time to clean up Pavilion,” which called for some long-overdue attention to the “crumbling tiles, filthy walls and nonexistent amenities” in the facility’s restrooms. The column quoted a tourist who said she was “seriously disgusted” by the beach bathrooms, to the point of vowing never to return.

Since then I’ve watched the Pavilion’s concrete patio slab replaced, a royal blue aluminum roof installed, matching shade “sails” hung and concrete patio furniture set in position. The concession stand kitchen has been refurbished and the outer walls got a fresh coat of paint.

There were periods of inactivity between each improvement and it all seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time, but last week, when I saw a crew placing dozens of plants in an area that had received a new irrigation system, I thought the makeover must finally be complete.

Since I rarely use the restrooms, I hadn’t thought to visit them since the city had hastily slapped a fresh coat of paint on the interior walls and installed metal splash guards beneath the hand dryers (probably because no amount of paint was going to cover their permanently stained walls) two years ago. A temporary touch up, city officials told me then, promising a full-scale rehab would soon follow.

But last week I got a message from another out-of-state visitor that sounded just like the one I received in 2019: “Went into Lido Beach restrooms last weekend. Lids missing off the backs of toilets, some not working, crumbling tiles in stalls. They were disgusting and I will not go there again. Terrible impression for visitors.”

These pictures document what I found. There was yellow police tape criss-crossing the door of one out-of-order stall, at least two toilets without back lids, deteriorated and missing tiles and a layer of grime that would defeat even the most diligent cleaning crew.

When I contacted the city, Jason Bartolone, a member of the communications staff, said no “subject matter experts” were available to speak to me. (Apparently, ever.). He did, however, send a list of the status of the project, which detailed the improvements I’ve listed above.

It also referenced a final item:  a rehab of the restrooms, which “will complete the Lido Beach Pavilion renovations.” When I asked why the bathrooms -- which many people might consider … um …urgent… had been saved for last, Bartolone explained it this way:

“Understanding that the design process for the restrooms could take 6-8 months to complete, the city moved forward with other components of the project. Now that the bidding process is complete and a contractor has been selected, the contract for the restroom upgrades is expected to come before the City Commission in March.”

That’s how I learned the budget for the restrooms has yet to be officially approved. Once it is, actual construction is estimated to take between three and four months, during which time, Bartolone said, “a high-quality restroom trailer will be stationed at the site” to take care of visitors’ needs.

Even if that schedule remains on target, it will be late summer before the bathrooms reopen, giving yet another season of tourists a less than favorable impression of how Sarasota does its business (so to speak).

The delay is particularly disappointing when you consider the need for new restrooms was evident not just two years ago, but actually more like 13 — which is when the whole idea of a Pavilion overhaul was first proposed. Back in 2007, voters approved a referendum for a sales tax extension which included $1.25 million earmarked for improvements to the aging facility. Restoring the bathrooms and making repairs to the nearby swimming pool were at the top of that list.

Back then, the city pleaded poverty (it was estimated then the project would cost $2.9 million), which led to the ill-conceived public/private partnership, the public push back and, a decade later, the beginning of the long-awaited revamp. Some significant repairs were made to the pool in 2019, but the bathrooms kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list.

Considering current budget estimates, money does not appear to have been the hold up. The bathroom redo is now estimated at under $350,000; the other improvements have come to just over $636,000. Together that’s less than the $1.2 million the city offered in 2007.

So to anyone who has been waiting over a decade for a decent restroom at Lido, I’ll echo what my mother used to say to us kids between rest stops on a long road trip: “I’m sorry dear, but you’ll just have to hold it a bit longer.”

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “bathroom stall” doesn’t it?