PINELLAS PARK — County bus officials said in May they'd rather move routes than build a restroom for passengers at the Shoppes at Park Place.
But it seems they've changed their minds. They say they'll not only build a restroom at the stop, they may add a customer service booth — the first such terminal in mid Pinellas.
"The board agreed at the last meeting not to reroute the buses," said Brad Miller, chief executive officer of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. "They voted in June to pursue either a restroom only without customer service or to doing the midcounty terminal."
The reason for the change? New projections show the agency will have more money in the coming fiscal year than it expected so it will have enough funds to not only build but also maintain the facility.
"We're happy that there's apparently a solution in the works," Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said.
The bus transfer point on the 70th Avenue, or south, side of the center is the fifth busiest in the county. More than 175 bus trips go through there daily and about 990 passengers board buses there, according to PSTA figures.
But that much traffic can cause problems.
Pinellas Park and the PSTA locked horns this year over complaints from mall owner Boulder Venture that bus riders, who have no easy access to restrooms, were using an area near a trash bin by the Regal Cinemas multiplex to relieve themselves.
Pinellas Park and Boulder Venture said it was the PSTA's duty to solve the problem by providing restroom facilities for its passengers. PSTA said it was not the agency's responsibility to provide restrooms and, in any case, it could not afford to pay an employee to keep restrooms clean.
PSTA officials said in May they would move most of the routes from the mall, 7200 U.S. 19 N, rather than build facilities. But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who serves on the PSTA, would not let the issue die.
"You've got human needs" that must be accommodated, he said.
Rerouting was not the best solution, Welch said. Many of the bus riders would have had to change buses at Park Boulevard and 49th Street N, one of the busiest intersections in the county. Safety was a concern, he said.
Then, new projections showed that revenue for the 2012-13 fiscal year would be higher than anticipated because of increased ridership, less of a slump in property values and increased income from advertising. That helped sway PSTA board members to forget the rerouting and consider building a restroom.
The PSTA estimates it would cost about $230,000 to build a restroom alone and about $330,000 if the terminal is included. It's unlikely all of that would come from PSTA funds. Pinellas Park had offered to contribute $100,000 for the restroom.
Annual maintenance of the restroom alone is estimated at $65,000. Annual maintenance of the terminal is estimated at $205,000, including the cost of customer service representatives.
Both proposals will be vetted by the PSTA's planning committee. Board members could make a decision this month.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.