CLEARWATER — Last summer, the city closed the public restrooms at Crest Lake Park after hearing reports that people were using them at night for sleeping, partying, drug use and prostitution.
The six bathrooms, located next to a playground, remain welded shut to this day.
Neighbors in the area surrounding the park have been asking that the restrooms be reopened. However, city leaders are reluctant to do that. In fact, they're thinking about eliminating the bathrooms entirely — partly because they are unattractive, and partly so that people will stop asking for them to be reopened.
"We have to decide whether to demolish the restrooms or open them," said Mayor George Cretekos. "As long as they're there, it's going to be a subject that is going to be brought up time after time after time."
The mayor and the rest of Clearwater's City Council debated the issue at a work session Monday. They appear to be leaning toward knocking down the restrooms, but they're not going to make that decision at their public meeting tonight. Instead, they'll consider it at their April 4 meeting.
The park is east of downtown between Cleveland Street and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. Its bathrooms used to automatically lock every night, but officials found that homeless people were jamming the doors' automatic locks with toilet paper, allowing the facilities to be used at night.
Residents of Skycrest, the neighborhood that includes the park, want the decision reversed. They say families are staying away from the park and vagrants are relieving themselves in the bushes. A larger group, the Clearwater Neighborhood Coalition, is making the same request.
So why not reopen the restrooms?
City officials say budget cuts have forced Clearwater to close public restrooms in parks all over the city, because it's costly to clean and maintain them. They're also worried that the Crest Lake bathrooms will simply return to their former status as a crime magnet.
Clearwater community development manager Ekaterini Gerakios described visiting the restrooms when they were open and finding needles on the floor and feces smeared on the wall.
"It's not a place where I would ever let my 4-year-old go," she said.
The City Council isn't unanimous in its views.
Cretekos wants a major redesign to turn Crest Lake Park into a signature park for the city. He'd like it to be more like Largo's popular Central Park. Perhaps it could have new restrooms then, he said.
However, money for that redesign might not be available for years.
Council member Jay Polglaze didn't want to wait that long and pushed for the restrooms to be reopened now.
Council member Bill Jonson doesn't like the current sinister look of the public restrooms, whose doors are welded shut.
"It looks like something bad happened there," he said. "It bothers me a lot."
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson wants to knock the restrooms down. "I have a real hard time repeating the same mistake when we know what will happen," he said.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.