Pinellas Park Councilman Rick Butler accepts a “gift” from Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board representative Councilwoman Patti Johnson. The entities are partnered to build a new PSTA customer service center at The Shoppes at Park Place, providing public restrooms to riders transferring through the mall bus stop in Pinellas Park .
PINELLAS PARK – A roll of toilet paper became a peace offering of sorts between the city of Pinellas Park and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, symbolizing a resolution of differences and the future customer service center – which will include public restrooms – to be built at the Park Place transfer bus stop.
Pinellas Park Councilwoman Patti Johnson, the city’s representative on the board, presented the “gift” to her fellow Councilman Rick Butler at the start of the meeting Sept. 27.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Butler said as the prize was revealed to the laughs from the audience. “It’s kind of like holding an Emmy.”
Less than six months ago, PSTA officials were considering plans to divert most of an estimated 400 riders who pass through the transfer bus stop at The Shoppes at Park Place each day, instead of building public restrooms they couldn’t fund. Area businesses, including the Regal Cinemas movie theater, had complained that the high volume of riders were causing a health hazard and aesthetics problem as they waited for their next bus without a public restroom nearby.
“It’s hard to believe that we walked up to PSTA and said, ‘’We need to work together and partner and try to get this facility in place.’ And before we could even finish our sentence, (they said,) ‘We don’t have any money,’ ” Butler said.
The problem wasn’t the funds to build a facility, as both government entities offered to help pay for the upfront costs. Neither, however, wanted to be responsible for its upkeep.
In May, PSTA presented the city with an action plan to divert 90 percent of the riders away from the transfer stop in Pinellas Park. But on June 25, the PSTA board voted to build a facility that would not only offer riders restrooms, but include a manned customer service book where riders will be able to buy bus passes, get PSTA materials and PSTA identification cards.
“I guess they took it seriously that we feel that people shouldn’t be going to the bathroom on Dumpsters and parking lots,” Butler said. “I think we’re getting a nice little facility for our residents.”
The facility, serving mid-county riders, will be the agency’s first customer service center in more than a decade. The other service centers are in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
Johnson said The Shoppes at Park Place owners, Boulder Venture, also stepped up, partnering with PSTA to allow the facility to be built on the mall property. Pinellas Park is contributing $100,000 to the cost of its construction.
“Everyone all worked together to get this done. It wasn’t a one-city thing,” Johnson said.
Butler also thanked the Community Redevelopment police officers for being on the “front lines” of the issue for the city.