Sarasota County’s ambitious plans for the nation’s “number one beach” were put on the fast track Wednesday afternoon, but only if money can be found to pay for it.
Curtis Smith, the county’s project engineer for Siesta Beach told commissioners last summer the current plan calls for $21.5 million to be spent over the next 12 years. Commissioners sent Smith back to compress the time schedule from years to months. He returned Wednesday with a new schedule, but no new funding.
Director of Public Works Jim Harriott said, “This design contract is based on the assumption we can have a construction project for the next 14 months. We haven’t found the funding. We will come back in January or February.”
Commissioners approved $1.4 million contract amendment with Kimley-Horn and Associates for “final permitting, design and limited construction phase services.” The entire project is paid for from Surtax III money.
The improvements will include work at the concession area, increased parking, Beach Road improvements, additional rest rooms, improved playground, a new maintenance facility and new tennis courts. On the existing schedule, little of the work would get started until a year or two from now.
Because of the soft economy, collections of the extra penny of sales tax from Surtax III has been sluggish. The schedule of projects receiving funding has been juggled several times, and will be juggled again to look for Siesta Beach project money.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said, “I would love to see this project done. This is our number-one tourist attraction.”
“This is the goose that lays the golden eggs,” said Commissioner Jon Thaxton. “Right now the goose doesn’t match up to the expectation of our citizens or the visitors to the number-one beach in the U.S. The facilities are tired and we need to wake them up.”
The “wake up” would start with Beach Road drainage improvements, including a new retention area on the eastern side of the property, starting in the summer of 2012. The following spring, work would begin on the eastern picnic and playground areas, with concessions and restrooms. Both of these phases would be finished before the onslaught of tourist season.
However the next phase – the big parking expansion – would start in the fall of 2013 and be finished in the spring of 2014, bridging across tourist season. The final phase would be the western parking lot and existing concession area. It would be a Spring-to-Fall project in 2014.
Smith said the telescoped project does not include any work on Beach Road. “That could be a separate contract,” he said.