PINELLAS PARK — Members of the board that oversees bus service in Pinellas County unanimously voted to build a terminal with restrooms at the Shoppes at Park Place.
The decision last week should end the monthslong standoff between the center's owners, Pinellas Park and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority over public urination and defecation at the bus stop on the 70th Avenue N side of the mall. City and mall officials placed most of the blame on riders who were waiting to transfer but did not have enough time between buses to get to a nearby business.
Pinellas Park council member Patti Johnson, who represents the city on the PSTA board, said she was thrilled.
"I'm jumping up and down on tables," Johnson said. The dispute has "turned into a really great thing for Pinellas Park."
Pinellas Park and the mall's owner, Boulder Venture South, complained to PSTA officials several months ago about the problem. Bus passengers were relieving themselves by a Dumpster near a breezeway next to the multiplex cinemas.
At first, PSTA said it was not responsible for providing restroom facilities for its passengers even though Pinellas Park promised to contribute $100,000 to the construction costs. When no agreement could be reached, the city told PSTA to remove the transit area, which serves as a hub for seven routes, some of the county's longest, and more than 2,000 rides a day.
Bus officials proposed moving the transfer point for some of the routes to the nearby Park Boulevard and 49th Street N intersection. The proposal would have seen passengers scrambling to cross the intersection, one of the Pinellas' busiest and most hazardous, to transfer from one bus to another.
Bus officials also took a second look at the issue and its statistics. With ridership increasing by about 32 percent during the past 10 years, the county's three PSTA customer service terminals have become increasingly crowded. And none of those are in mid Pinellas, where about 20 percent of the riders who use transportation disadvantaged passes live. That meant that about 1,400 people had to ride one or more hours to get to the Clearwater or one of the two St. Petersburg customer service kiosks to get their TD passes.
PSTA officials decided a better solution would be to build a customer service center at the Shoppes at Park Place, 7200 U.S. 19 N, complete with public restrooms. The cost for construction is expected to total about $430,000 but Pinellas Park plans to contribute $100,000 of that. The yearly operating costs are estimated at about $222,000.
Construction is expected to start this fall and be finished by next summer. The new facility will include space for a manned customer service booth where people will be able to buy bus passes, get PSTA materials and official PSTA identification cards.
"This is a great day for our riders," PSTA CEO Brad Miller said. "A facility like this for our midcounty riders has been long overdue."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.