The selling of beer and wine at the Coquina Beach Park Cafe took another step forward with a letter from Manatee County Parks and Recreation director Cindy Turner to Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy.
The concession stand reopened in May after months of renovations, but a request from the cafe’s operator, United Parks Service, to sell beer and wine similar to the operations at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach was denied by city commissioners in March.
UPS representatives, Turner and city staff then met in August to work through the city’s concerns with the sale of alcohol at Coquina Beach, including the need for additional law enforcement.
Commissioners denied the alcohol request largely due to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale’s concerns of seeing the beach return to an unsavory past.
Since then, Turner, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and UPS operator Mark Enoch have continued to address Speciale’s concerns.
In a letter to Shaughnessy dated Oct. 5, Turner said she wanted to express the county’s continued support to allow UPS beer and wine sales at Coquina, and to inform the mayor that she believes all of the city’s concerns have now been addressed.
“This letter is to provide you with a public record of the county’s support in this effort by our vendor,” wrote Turner. “We see this as an added customer service that will enhance the beach experience, especially for our many European visitors.”
Turner said the county has received several requests to allow beer and wine sales at Coquina, and while it has cleared all other hurdles, the city has the final word.
Following the August meeting, Turner pledged to work with Speciale to address his law enforcement concerns. Speciale said he would need more patrols from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office if alcohol sales were approved.
Turner did not state any specific arrangements or the addition MCSO patrols, but said the vendor has agreed to pay uniformed off-duty city police officers to supervise the area.
“Hopefully, now that some practical parameters have been established that will better ensure the safety of the public and comfort of our visitors, we can now move forward with this next logical step” of approving the permit for the sale of beer and wine at the beach, she said.
Turner said the permit approval is the next logical step, “in the development of what has been deemed one of the top 10 family-friendly beaches in America.”
The positioning of uniformed police officers in the area addresses Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse’s concerns of supervision, as well.
In August, Gatehouse said an open area that sells alcohol is an invitation to underage drinking without adequate supervision. Gatehouse also said that without proper monitoring, alcohol consumption could create tragedy with people leaving the beach intoxicated.
Turner disagreed with that point in August, saying studies show serving alcohol in a controlled environment, as opposed to people sneaking alcohol onto the beach, reduces the likelihood of an alcohol-related tragedy.
Turner pledged to address Gatehouse’s concerns nonetheless and said the proposal to have a uniformed police presence, paid for by the vendor, addresses both Speciale’s concerns of more enforcement and Gatehouse’s concerns of more supervision.
Bradenton Beach commissioners next meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at city hall but, as of press time, the subject was not listed on the agenda.