Civic Action Leads to Painted Public Bench

When it came to seeking official permission to paint a public bench in front of her business, “I had an ally,” said Robynne Swanson, owner of Red Hot Tiki Spicy Gourmet, 2404 Beach Boulevard S., pictured left. Helping her with the civic action was Shannon Hilton, right, owner of Gulfport Gifts, which is located next door. “It was looking terrible and it needed to be brightened up,” said Hilton. As soon as Swanson received the go-ahead last week, she spent $12 to buy two cans of spray paint, plastic and some tape. “I just wanted to put it back the way it was and didn’t want to do anything fancy,” said Swanson. “I wanted to spruce it up and make it look nice. Things happen because people take it upon themselves to find a way and spend their money to do it.”

When it comes to getting something done, Gulfport business owners Robynne Swanson and Shannon Hilton know how to make things work.

Swanson bought her Red Hot Tiki Spicy Gourmet store on Beach Boulevard two years ago.

“I painted and cleaned up the store,” she said. “I put pretty plants out front and on the bar side to make it more inviting.”

She even painted the mailboxes.

Then, after two months, her attention focused on the faded public bench located in front of her business.

She jokingly told a fellow businessperson, “One of these days, I’m going to come here in the middle of the night and I’m going to paint that bench!”

Instead, she chose to seek official permission “because you just never know how anybody is going to react even if you just painted it white.”

Was it a city bench? Since it was at a bus stop, was it the property of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)?

For two years, she didn’t know what government authority had jurisdiction but she started to take action by asking.

She called and sent emails to the PSTA. She talked to people at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting. She called the city. “But, nobody could tell me who to talk to.”

And, she talked to the business owner next door, Shannon Hilton of Gulfport Gifts, who has had her store for about a year.

Hilton got involved, messaging the city on Facebook to ask “if the bench could be painted because it was looking terrible.” Soon, “the city said, ‘Yeah, you can paint it.’”

It was Gulfport’s Justin Shea, the cultural facilities events supervisor who first saw Hilton’s question on social media.

He then involved the city’s new public works superintendent, Tom Nicholls, and put him in touch with Bob Lasher, the PSTA’s public information officer who frequently works with Gulfport on transportation topics.

A “before” shot of the bench business owners Robynne Swanson and Shannon Hilton repainted in Gulfport.

“It’s a PSTA bus stop so I figured one of the first steps would be to involve Lasher,” said Shea. “He is a team player.”

Nicholls then represented Gulfport and strategically worked with Lasher.

“Lasher sent his team out to take a look at the bench” and provided guidance then approval including the type of paint to use, said Shea. Next, Nicholls passed along the PSTA’s go-ahead for action to Swanson.

“I went out that night and bought two cans of spray paint, some plastic and some tape,” said Swanson. “I painted the bench the very next day.”

That was last week. She spent $12 of her own money to make a difference.

“It may take time,” said Swanson, but a little action on the part of individuals can go a long way.

Said Shea: “This is a win-win with everybody.”



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