As sunset approaches at the Coquina Beach concession stand, no one gathers to enjoy the view. Manatee County officials are making a second push for beer and wine sales at the stand to keep people at the beach longer. Islander Photo: Mark Young
The Coquina Beach concession stand reopened May 23 after months of renovations kept the facility closed, but it reopened as a dry cafe — to the disappointment of some.
Despite the celebration, featuring a who’s who of county officials, beer and wine sales at the snack bar remained a goal for the concessionaire.
But it’s the city of Bradenton Beach that has authority to determine whether alcoholic beverages are sold. Coquina Beach is within Bradenton Beach city limits, but operates under a management contract with the county.
Before the doors reopened in May, Manatee County Parks and Recreation director Cindy Turner and County Commissioner Carol Whitmore expressed support for beer and wine sales at the concession stand, but city commissioners shot down that request at a commission meeting in March.
Turner and Mark Enoch, of United Park Services Inc., the contract operator of the concession stand, pledged to try again. They did so Aug. 13 at Bradenton Beach City Hall during a special meeting.
Only Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Ric Gatehouse attended the meeting, so a quorum for official business did not occur, but Shaughnessy said the meeting was only for discussion and would not require action.
Commissioners previously rejected the request to sell beer and wine at Coquina Beach based on Police Chief Sam Speciale’s concerns about enforcing potential bad behavior due to alcohol consumption at the beach.
“I trust my department heads and value their input,” Shaughnessy said to Turner, as to why the commissioners turned down the request. “If there was indeed a problem, it would be awhile before we could get an officer down there, especially at night.”
The city and BBPD have a contract with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to patrol Coquina Beach, but Speciale said he would need MCSO assistance if alcohol would be sold at the concession stand.
Coquina Beach did not always have the reputation it enjoys now. It used to be a problem area for Bradenton Beach law enforcement, and Speciale said he does not want a return to that kind of atmosphere.
Gatehouse said his reasoning was along those lines, as well, and also said serving alcohol in an open area does not allow for adequate supervision.
“Clearly underage drinking on the beach becomes a possibility,” said Gatehouse. “It also brings to mind the tragic incident in Siesta Key of having someone cut people off. Those guys got hammered and one of them got in a car and ran down a woman and killed her.”
Turner said she respects the city’s points of view, but has been working with Speciale to address his concerns and wants to work with Gatehouse to address his points.
“The Siesta Key incident is tragic, but unfortunately people are going to drink, whether it’s at Coquina Beach or the BeachHouse,” said Turner. “What our studies have shown is that when you are serving it in a controlled environment, it prohibits people from bringing their own alcohol.”
Turner said it’s no secret that people bring their own alcohol to the beach.
“They sneak it on the beach and drink it,” she said. “We’ve had a number of people ask us why we can’t just sell it. I look at it as more controlled by selling it than having people sneak in their own.”
Turner said she can promise additional law enforcement to alleviate Speciale’s concerns, and would work on a list of policies with Gatehouse to address his points.
Shaughnessy wanted to know why the county was pushing so hard for the sale of beer and wine at Coquina Beach.
“What does the county get out of this?” he asked. “Do you get a percentage of the gross sales, because Bradenton Beach isn’t getting anything out of it?”
Turner said the county does receive a percentage from the contractor, but it wasn’t about the money and disagreed that Bradenton Beach wasn’t benefitting.
“You are getting an enhanced environment,” she said. “Manatee County isn’t in it because of percentages. We support it because we believe in it and think it’s the best thing we can do for our community.”
Turner said she is trying to look at the bigger picture to enhance the Coquina Beach experience as part of the county’s commitment to its Blue Wave certification.
“You have to follow strict environmental guidelines to get that certification, and that’s something we are proud of and worked really hard at,” said Turner, who added that Blue Wave is all about enhancing the community.
“The beer and wine sales is another enhancement to our visitors and residents,” she said. “It’s not the dollar value. It’s what people are asking for.”
Speciale said the county has addressed his concerns and he would no longer object to the proposal.
“I can’t speak for my commission,” said Shaughnessy. “If my chief of police is comfortable with it, then I’m comfortable with it, too. If I can’t trust my department heads, then they wouldn’t be there.”
Turner said she would work on a business plan that will include law enforcement involvement and a list of policies for the serving of alcohol. Turner said the request would be submitted at a yet-to-be-determined commission meeting.