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Bids sought for local beach concessions

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — County officials will seek competitive bids to decide who operates the restaurant, gift shop and other concessions at Manatee and Coquina beaches.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker says he thinks the concessions — a restaurant and gift shop at Manatee, a snack bar at Coquina — are run well. But the current lease has not been open to competing bids for almost two decades, and a new contract might bring more revenue to the county.

“There’s nothing wrong with the current vendors and their operation,” Hunzeker said at last week’s county commissioners meeting. “It’s just that the entire contract needs review, and the best way to do that is through a competitive bid.”

But the operators say the decision to seek other bidders has surprised them. They argue their restaurant at Manatee Beach is popular and that the county will be hard-pressed to find someone to pay more rent while staying in business.

“Wouldn’t you think that, after this many years, there would be some more consideration?” said Dee Percifield-Schaefer, who operates the concessions and gift shop with her husband, Gene Schaefer.

The Schaefers pay the county $193,000 a year to run the concessions; they declined Tuesday to discuss how much the business makes.

Their lease is up next July, but the county can extend the agreement for another five years.

Instead of renewing the lease, however, county commissioners voted 4-3 last week to solicit bidders. The Schaefers can also submit a proposal.

The county will begin soliciting bids in early 2010 and could select the winning vendor around March.

Percifield-Schaefer said that when the couple took over the Manatee Beach restaurant in 1992, it was an “absolute pit.”

“Now we’ve built it into a 300-plus capacity restaurant that’s known in all of Florida,” she said.

Known as Café on the Beach, the restaurant sits right on the edge of Manatee Beach and has expansive views of the Gulf of Mexico. A gift shop is packed with wares next door.

Gene Schaefer said the restaurant’s parking lot is often packed during the winter when tourists arrive. But he said other potential vendors might not account for the majority of visitors who bring their own food and drink in coolers.

Since 2003, a subcontractor has managed the concessions at the two beaches. According to a summary provided to county commissioners, parks officials say the couple is “maintaining a minimal interest in the gift shop.”

Officials believe a new vendor would also help cover remodeling costs at the concession at Coquina Beach. And a new agreement could provide the county with revenue from chair rentals, ATM fees and vending machines.

In praising how the couple does business, Hunzeker seemed to agree with several restaurant patrons.

Marie Tanis, of Bradenton, visits the restaurant every month with her Bible study group from Bradenton Christian Reformed Church.

“You can see the land, and you can see the water without getting wet,” said Tanis, 77. “The food is good and the prices are OK.”

The restaurant hosts the conclusion of the July 4 parade put on by the Anna Maria Island Privateers. The parade will start at Coquina Beach and finish outside the eatery, where the group will present $28,000 in scholarships to local students.

Dennis Poteet, president of the Privateers, said the Schaefers provide free space for the event and also offer specials on food.