CLEARWATER — A slim majority of City Council members appears ready to vote tonight to get rid of the shuttered public restrooms at Crest Lake Park, even though the surrounding neighborhood has asked that they be reopened.
At the same time, the council is also likely to vote to have the park redesigned and improved in the years to come.
A vocal crowd is expected at tonight's council meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Neighbors around Crest Lake are insistent about getting the park's restrooms reopened, but city officials don't sound likely to do that.
The city closed the restrooms last summer after hearing reports that homeless people and others were using them at night for sleeping, partying, drug use and prostitution in the park along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard east of downtown. The six restrooms, situated next to a playground, remain welded shut.
"We probably should have had this discussion several months ago. … It looks terrible, having them welded shut," Mayor George Cretekos said at a council work session Monday. "The neighborhood has to understand that we are serious in our commitment to redeveloping that park. It's not going to happen overnight … but it will happen over a period of time."
There's $1.5 million in future Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue earmarked for reworking Crest Lake Park. The money is scheduled to become available in 2017 and 2018.
In the meantime, three out of five council members sound ready to demolish the park's restrooms.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson predicted that reopening them would lead to demands for public restrooms to be added to neighborhood parks all over Clearwater, such as Morningside Park and Del Oro Park as well as Forest Run Park in the Countryside area.
But council member Jay Polglaze thinks Crest Lake's restrooms should be reopened.
"Is it a neighborhood park? Is it going to continue to be a neighborhood park? Or is it going to eventually be a city park?" Polglaze asked. "If we want to change it, I don't see why we shouldn't begin to make changes that we can do now, with relatively minimal expense."
The mayor argued against what he called "a piecemeal approach."
"The restrooms we have out there now, they're the worst possible type of restrooms," Cretekos said.
Clearwater spent about $86,000 maintaining Crest Lake Park last year, said city parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar. He said it would cost about $35,000 a year to contract out the job of unlocking the restrooms each morning, locking them each night, and cleaning them daily.
When council member Bill Jonson noted that Skycrest neighborhood residents had volunteered to take care of the restrooms, Dunbar responded that this kind of arrangement historically hadn't worked out well.
But Jonson noted that managers of sports teams are allowed to open and close the restrooms at Glen Oaks Park, which has athletic fields. "I'm not quite sure I understand the difference there," said Jonson, who is interested in reopening Crest Lake's restrooms at least temporarily.
Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito called the welded-shut restrooms "a horrible photo op."
"That building really needs to be removed, in my opinion," she 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.