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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Manatee County administrator defends beach concession contract

MANATEE — In response to a high volume of e-mails and letters to the editors regarding the possible switch in operators of the concessions at Manatee County beaches, county Administrator Ed Hunzeker called a press conference Monday.

“We sat back and listened to all the comments,” Hunzeker said. “We’ve gone through the process as required to do according to the county purchasing ordinance and policy.”

County commissioners have been receiving a greater number than usual of correspondence since reports that the current contract with P.S. Beach and Associates will expire in July and the county will negotiate a new contract with a Tampa firm.

Hunzeker said his staff put out a request for proposals, picked their top choice, United Park Services, and negotiated a contract.

Commissioners will vote to approve or not approve the proposed contract at their May 11 meeting.

Dee and Gene Schaffer own P.S. Beach and Associates, and since 1992 have held the contract for Cafe on the Beach restaurant and The Beach Shop retail store at Manatee County Beach and the food concession at Coquina Beach.

Through the years, and about seven years ago when the Schaffers subleased the cafe to Tom Vayias and John Menihtas, a loyal customer base was established.

With some prompting from Dee Schaffer, many of those customers have been contacting commissioners to question the need to change management.

Hunzeker said Monday the proposal from Alan Kahana and Mark and Debra Enoch, who own United Parks Services, was clearly the best of the four the county received.

Vayias and Menihtas, under the name Cafe on the Beach LLC, vied for the concession, as did two other companies, Dogology Inc. and Blue Wave.

“We looked at what will pay the taxpayers the best return for operating a business on the taxpayers’ properties,” Hunzeker said.

Many of the complaints to commissioners focused on reports of United Park Services’ proposal to offer a Key West-style atmosphere and also to provide rentals for scooters and kayaks.

“All this stuff about Key West and kayaks is not in the proposed contract,” Hunzeker said.

The proposed contract with United Park Services does provide for a 79 percent increase in payments to the county over what P.S. Beach and Associates pays now, he said.

“People are saying they want smaller government,” Hunzeker said, “but they also are saying they want a better way to pay for government.”

And that was what the process was about, he said.