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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

City-run restaurant concept dropped like hot potato in Bradenton Beach

So maybe a city-run restaurant at the Bradenton Beach City Pier isn't that good an idea after all.

A majority of the city commission last week rejected the concept of running the concession at the pier as a separate city department. The idea was floated earlier by Vice Mayor Bill Shearon as a means for the city to have total control of the operation.

The pier has been closed to all but fishers since September 2004 after Hurricane Frances damaged the restaurant roof and the city commission terminated the franchise agreement with concessionaires Karen and Jake Gallo.

"Do we want to be in the restaurant/bait/souvenir/water-taxi business?" Shearon asked the commission.

The answer was, well, no.

"I don't think it's a good idea," said City Commissioner John Shaughnessy. "We would have to hire city employees, provide insurance, retirement, worker's compensation, we'd have to hire and fire - I don't think any of us are equipped to run it. I think it would be a benefit to the city to hire a concessionaire rather than to create another department to run the pier. Plus, restaurants have a high turnover in staff."

"I think it would be OK as a 'Plan B,'" said City Commissioner Ron Nachtigal. "I'd like to see us go out to bid again."

Commissioners requested bids on the pier franchise in late 2004. Out of a dozen or so people who requested the proposal, only one responded. The city commission rejected that offer in late December.

"I'd like to see us make the pier structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and then rent it out as a space without worrying about receiving a percentage of the business," said City Commissioner Lisa Marie Phillips. "Then at least we can get some revenue coming in. I believe it would be an awful lot for us to handle right now."

Mayor John Chappie said the city-run restaurant idea has surfaced in the past for the pier "and my response has always been, we don't want to run a restaurant. If would be a lot of bookkeeping for the clerk's office, but I'd like to know more about it."

Even Shearon said he was "up in the air about it. The benefit is we would have full control and could run it the way we wanted to, but the concern is we would have to set up a whole new department."

Regarding Phillips suggestion to just rent out the space, commissioners eventually agreed that the highest and best use of the facility is as a simple, no-frills restaurant with bait and tackle as a sideline.

The matter is scheduled to come up again at the 7 p.m. city commission meeting March 3. Shearon said he planned to work on creating a "vision plan" for the restaurant that could lead to issuing another request for proposals for the site.

The city reaped a substantial amount of revenue through the concessionaire arrangement from 1999-2001, although funds had dwindled in recent years. The city has about $215,000 remaining in the pier account, which can only be spent on improvements, repairs or other expenses relating to the pier.

City Clerk Nora Idso said expenses on the pier - lighting, water, sewer, insurance and the like - total about $1,000 per month.

And Public Works Director Dottie Poindexter said the repeated vandalism of the pier rest rooms had prompted her to consider closing those facilities until someone could be "on site" with more regularity to ensure that damage would be minimized.

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