Brent Batten: Plan to promote tourism goes down the toilet

BRENT BATTEN

To lure tourists, Collier County boasts of its beautiful beaches, its upscale shopping and dining and the unique nature of the Everglades.

But for a single vote on the county commission, it would have had a new item to add to the list, the amazing chemical toilet.

By a 3-2 vote Tuesday county commissioners omitted funding for a chemical toilet from a list of beach park projects to be paid for from the county’s tourist tax.

But not before a spirited discussion about the potential impact the toilet could have on tourism. Before tourist tax dollars can be spent, commissioners need to agree the expenditure will, “promote tourism,” leading to a mix of humor and incredulity over the plan to rebuild the toll booth at Barefoot Beach, with a chemical toilet included for the comfort of the toll taker.

“Am I losing something?” Commissioner Tom Henning asked, perhaps referring to his mind. “We need to make a finding that it promotes tourism and one of the items is a chemical toilet in a toll booth? I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to tell the public that we made a finding to promote tourism by replacing a toll booth, installing a chemical toilet.”

Commission Chairman Fred Coyle chimed in “There are people who are likely to come to Collier County just to see a toilet in a toll booth. That could be a tourist attraction.”

Henning put together the beginnings of a marketing campaign. “Yeah! We have an environmentally friendly toilet in a toll booth. Advertise it in our promotions.”

To see a facial expression that sums up the moment yet defies description, go to county’s web site, colliergov.net, view the archived video of the meeting and jump to the 6-hour, 12-minute mark to watch County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow try to contain himself at the thought.

Commissioner Jim Coletta made an attempt to link the toilet and the toll booth replacement to tourism promotion. The existing toll booth is in bad repair, with a sliding door that does not slide and a portable toilet located across a street, behind a barricade. The improved structure will make it less cumbersome for the lone attendant to relieve himself or herself. “Can you picture pulling up to Barefoot Beach Park and seeing a sign in the window, ‘Please wait, I’ll be right back’ and the cars lining up behind it?” he asked.

He might have succeeded, if it hadn’t been for the toilet’s estimated cost _ $40,000.

“Take a minute to explain to us why a chemical toilet cost $40,000. I can pick one up for 150 bucks down at the marine store,” Coyle asked Coastal Zone Manager Gary McAlpin.

Coupled with the $150,000 cost of replacing the toll booth and associated engineering and permitting expenses and the project worked out to more than $200,000 or upwards of $4,000 a square foot, Commissioner Georgia Hiller pointed out. “For a toll booth and a chemical toilet? Holy moly,” she said.

McAlpin countered that the figures before commissioners were only estimates and that no money would be spent before the commissioners were given final say on the contracts to actually do the work. But he probably didn’t do his case any favors when he said the chemical toilet might cost “only” $15,000, with additional money needed to integrate it into the overall toll booth design.

At $15,000, the chemical toilet in the Barefoot Beach toll booth would rank fourth on the list of “World’s Most Expensive Toilets” compiled by the Internet site Web Urbanist, behind the $19 million toilet built for the International Space Station but ahead of the Toto Neorest 600, which at $5,800 features automatic hands-free lid opening and closing, a heated seat, automatic and remote hands-free flush, automatic self-cleansing and an air purifier.

“You understand how it appears to the public,” Coyle told McAplin. “Before you spend a penny, you’ve got to come back and say, ‘I’ve got this really great chemical toilet...’ I think it’s safe to assume when you come back, you’re going to get a lot of tough questions.”

With Henning, Hiller and Commissioner Donna Fiala unwilling to make the finding that the toilet would promote tourism, the project fell off the list of possible park expenditures.

Too bad. Think of the slogans. “Collier County: Come for the beaches, stay for the toilet in the toll booth.” Or, “I (heart) chemical crappers.”

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

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