The Gulf Drive Cafe and Tiki, 900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, received conditional approval to host an open-air market on the premises. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
A proposal for a beach market won temporary approval from Bradenton Beach commissioners Nov. 17, following some haggling on conditions and debating on free enterprise.
The commission voted 3-1 to approve a special event permit for the Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki, 900 Gulf Drive N., to hold a Sunday market.
Commissioners Ed Straight and Gay Breuler, along with Mayor John Shaughnessy, voted yes. Commissioner Jan Vosburgh voted no.
The approval came with a couple of stipulations, agreed upon after a lengthy discussion on the dais and numerous comments – for and against the proposal — from the public.
The conditions are that the Gulf Drive Cafe hire two police officers to assist with any vehicle and pedestrian traffic tie-ups and to prevent people from leaving the restaurant property with open containers of alcohol.
The police chief still must OK that requirement, which developed from Shaughnessy’s concern about alcohol sales during the event and city attorney Ricinda Perry’s review of alcohol codes and ensuing, emphatic recommendation that such a requirement was needed to protect the city.
Additionally, the commission approved the market for 60 days, not the requested six months, to make sure problems do not develop.
The commission began discussing the market proposal under a motion from Vosburgh to deny the permit.
Vosburgh raised concerns about the impact the market would have on Gulf Drive/State Road 789 traffic. The restaurant is about two blocks north of the Cortez Road intersection.
“I can see such a bottleneck there,” she said. “I can see all kinds of problems.
Vosburgh also questioned the impact on residents near the restaurant.
“I’m extremely pro-business,” she said. “I ran on pro-business. However, I just think … it’s not fair to the residents that live there. …I just think it’s a very bad location.”
Janie Robertson, who this month completed her third and final term as commissioner, took a turn at the citizen’s podium. Robertson lives near the restaurant, and she also raised concerns about traffic backups, especially when the market shuts down and vendors load their vehicles and pull back onto Gulf Drive.
“In high season, Gulf Drive is jam-packed,” Robertson said. “The traffic there would be absolutely horrendous.”
Robertson said the market would be detrimental to businesses and residents in the immediate area and “hopefully it will not be approved, especially not for six months.”
Others objected to the market because it is scheduled for the same day and similar hours as the Bridge Street Market, which was established several years ago by the nonprofit Bridge Street Merchants.
“The merchants are strongly opposed to this,” said BSM president Jo Ann Meilner.
Meilner read several opposition letters from merchants, who said the city — about 2 miles long and a couple blocks wide — doesn’t need two Sunday markets.
The Bridge Street Market, which this year has a new manager, Melissa Enders, is focused on booking vendors that sell handcrafted and unique items that complement rather than compete with Bridge Street merchants.
“We wanted to keep it fresh. We wanted to keep it new. That was our goal,” said Meilner.
BSM vice president Caryn Hodge added, “We heard from people coming to the market. They wanted to upscale the quality of the vendors.”
Hodge said Gulf Drive Cafe’s proposal went against the “nice and respectful” spirit of cooperation that the Island cities and businesses encourage.
Two former Bridge Street Market vendors, who plan to set up at the Gulf Drive Cafe, encouraged the commission to approve the permit request.
Both said they had stayed with the Bridge Street event through its fledgling early seasons, but were pushed out this year after BSM and founding market manager Nancy Ambrose failed to negotiate an agreement. Ambrose has since proposed a Sunday market in Holmes Beach, which commissioners there turned down, and has talked with the Gulf Drive Cafe about the beach market.
Jewelry vendor Val Gratias said she was at the Bridge Street Market “rain or shine” for three years and hopes to return to Bradenton Beach at the Gulf Drive market.
“This is free enterprise,” she said. “Nobody needs to have a monopoly, and I feel strongly about that.”
Bradenton Beach resident Dale Redeker also spoke in favor of the market. “I feel as though competition is good for business,” he said, adding that if Ambrose is involved “it will fly, and it will fly right.”
Representing the restaurant, Pete Barreda said he and the owners had talked about a market “for quite some time,” but the plan was delayed due to a major renovation and construction project.
“I didn’t realize this was going to create a big tizzy to be honest with you,” he told commissioners.
But, Barreda continued, “everybody has a right to conduct their business. Competiveness is good. It makes businesses do more. Thrive. That’s what we’ve been raised with. That’s what our country is based on. Free enterprise.”
Breuler said after she received the permit application regarding logistics, she had mixed feelings but observed that the police department was prepared to deal with traffic issues and that the restaurant has more parking than any other venue in the city, with the exception of Coquina Beach.
Breuler returned to the free enterprise argument. “I don’t think we have a right to legislate against free enterprise,” she said. “I would like to give them an opportunity, and if it doesn’t fly, it doesn’t fly.”
If the best happens, she said, the beach market will be a boost for citizens and commerce on Bridge Street and Gulf Drive.
Straight, before indicating his position, asked city building official Steve Gilbert, who presented the permit application to the commission in a memo, a couple of questions.
“I wonder,” Straight said, “what Steve Gilbert has to say about this.”
Gilbert said the application was complete and noted that even the Bridge Street Market was established after other markets were taking place at Coquina Beach, including one operated by the Anna Maria Island Privateers.
He said if commissioners identified traffic or safety issues with the Gulf Drive Cafe market, those would be valid concerns, but “when it comes down to competing special events, I don’t know from a staff perspective if we have a say on that.”
Shaughnessy concluded the discussion and asked for a vote on Vosburgh’s motion, which failed 2-2. The mayor and Vosburgh voted to deny the permit.
A second motion made by Breuler to approve the permit also failed 2-2. Breuler and Straight voted to approve, Vosburgh and Shaughnessy were opposed.
The discussion on stipulations followed, and then the final 3-1 vote.
The beach market was approved for Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., from Dec. 4 to Jan. 31.
After the decision, several residents near the Gulf Drive Cafe complained that the vote occurred without a commissioner representing their ward.
Robertson had held that seat and, based on her comments and past concerns with the Gulf Drive Cafe’s special events and expansion, she likely would have been a “no” vote.
But Robertson could not seek re-election because of a city charter-imposed term limit, and no one from the ward filed to run for the office in the Nov. 8 election, creating a vacancy.
The commission will appoint someone to fill the seat, probably in December.