UPS wins Manatee Beach bid
The Manatee County Commissioners voted 4-3 to award a contract for United Parks Service of St. Petersburg to operate the concession at Manatee Public Beach.
Hundreds of people, mostly Cafe on the Beach supporters, filled the first-floor chamber at the County Administration Center in Bradenton and dozens spoke in favor of the current operators, Cafe on the Beach and P.S. Beach Associates.
However, despite an emotional appeal from Commissioner Carol Whitmore, an economic appeal from Commissioner Joe McClash and another appeal from Commissioner John Chappie to keep the current vendor, four commissioners voted for a new concession operator based on a negotiated contract. UPS is scheduled to begin operations at Cafe on the Beach July 21.
Whitmore is holding out hope one commissioner will rescind his or her vote at the next meeting May 25.
A county recommendations committee reviewed four companies’ requests for proposals and interviewed company representatives before recommending UPS, which operates the concessions at Fort DeSoto Park for Pinellas County.
“This crowd showed support unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Dee Schaefer of PSB. “It’s love. And I thank those who voted for us, and I think the other Manatee County commissioners made a bad decision.”
UPS is operated by president Alan Kahana, chief financial operator Mark Enoch and corporate secretary Debbie Enoch. Kahana established UPS in 2006 to provide food and beverage sales and rental services at Fort DeSoto Park and other venues.
Kahana owns the Boneyard Restaurant, Czar, The Castle, Fuma Bella and Dirty Shame Pub in Tampa. He also operates four large parking lots in Tampa.
After the meeting, Kahana addressed a couple of citizen concerns.
“We will continue live music, and we will continue the all-you-can-eat specials,” he said.
Kahana said he hopes to retain many Cafe on the Beach employees, those who are interested in staying. He added he’ll hold an interview process.
Debbie Enoch said she knows the importance of retaining Cafe on the Beach’s Island atmosphere.
“We want people to know that we know what it’s like when people remember you by name when you frequent the same restaurant,” she said. “And we want the same type of atmosphere. We’ll continue the feel of the facility. It’s important to note that we were looking for beach concessions, and that was settled before this contract existed. We feel it’s a great opportunity.”
In the end, UPS offered the county $342,000 annual rent and 4 percent of profits in excess of $2.5 million.
PSB, which was not given an opportunity to negotiate or match the UPS offer because, according to county procedures, the county was only required to negotiate with UPS.
P.S. Beach and Cafe on the Beach had first offered to pay annual rent of $326,000, which essentially was the highest bid. UPS originally offered a substantially lower rent along with various levels of percentages of sales.
Whitmore, who has lived on Anna Maria Island for 41 years, detailed why PSB was the best choice, and begged for “a friend on the board,” for one more commissioner to vote in favor of negotiating a contract with PSB.
“I hope the majority will not just look at the bottom dollar on this piece of paper,” she said. “It’s about a way of life and community and the unique character of Anna Maria Island.”
McClash argued the Manatee Beach operation is the reason why tourists come, the “real Florida.” He said, “You can’t buy soul. All the tourism data we have indicates this is something unique. Let’s not screw it up.”
Commissioners Ron Getman, Donna Hayes and Gwendolyn Brown voted in favor of UPS, as did Commissioner Larry Bustle, who said if the county did not accept the committee’s recommendation, the county process would lose credibility.
Getman said it was a business decision, to bring the county more revenue.
Chappie said part of that process includes the opportunity for commissioners to renegotiate with the current vendor if they’re not satisfied with the committee recommendation. But Bustle countered that he didn’t want to set a precedent of making RFP decisions.
Dozens upon dozens of Manatee County residents spoke, the majority of them pleaded with the commission to renegotiate with Cafe on the Beach. Their general sentiment was, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
The pleas from the gallery led to McClash’s final statement: “It’s a step in the wrong direction. And we’re not listening to the people.”