Thief of Market

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The St Augustine Record Article
The St. Augustine Beach Wednesday farmers markets, held near the pier, could soon come under new management. The St. Augustine Beach Civic Association currently runs the markets, which help fund Music by the Sea concerts and other events.
St. Johns County owns the beach pier park property, including the parking lot and pavilion. Recently, the St. Johns County Commission decided to put out a request for proposals to allow other businesses the chance to run the market.
Four groups applied, including the Civic Association. The county’s ranking committee recently met and ranked the Civic Association’s application last among the four applicants, according to a document provided by St. Johns County. The top-ranked was Salt Air Farmers Market. The other firms are Handmade St. Augustine and Media Systems Productions.
The county Parks and Recreation Department is reviewing the rankings, said Michael Ryan, county spokesman. Once the department makes its selection, the County Commission will decide whether to approve the contract. That matter could go before before the Commission this summer, Ryan said.
Bill Jones, president of the Civic Association, said his group won’t be able to fund the Music By the Sea if it loses the market and loses the revenue that comes with it. The Civic Association charges vendor fees for farmers market participants. The association also won’t be able to make as many community donations, he said.
County commissioners unanimously voted in February to put out a request for proposals for management of the market that would allow the county to make money from it — instead of letting the Civic Association use the space without paying rent. County Commission Chair Henry Dean made the motion and said he supported keeping the market at the pier park but that it was time to open the door for others to apply to run the market after nearly 20 years with the same management.
The county’s request for proposals asks for a market with “a local focus (grown or made within 100 miles of the market), offering fresh local produce, dairy, meats, local/artisan prepared foods such as baked and pickled goods, fresh squeezed juices, locally sourced artisan seasonings, teas, hand-made crafts, plants, and other local or artisan non-food items.” The market will be from 8 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays.
For use of the pier park area, the contractor will have to pay the county $250 plus 5.8 percent sales tax each month for each market. They’ll also pay the county a percentage of revenue from the vendor fees. Vendor fees will be capped at $40 per spot.
One of the county’s concerns about the Civic Association’s management of the market is complaints such as possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which have cost the county thousands of dollars to deal with, County Administrator Michael Wanchick said in December. The request for proposals requires the contractor to “ensure ADA compliant access to all portions of the market intended for public access.”
Parking is also a concern, and the request for proposals says that all parking areas outside of the designated market area have to be open to the public and not blocked. The county will review the contractor’s market layout for approval.
The contract will be for one year at a time. The contractor will also be responsible for conducting background checks on vendors before allowing them to participate at a market.
Jones blamed the county’s request for proposals in part on what he described as a vocal minority who have targeted him and the Civic Association with criticism and complaints to the county. He also said the issue is about money.
Jones said the Civic Association started the market about 20 years ago to provide a benefit to the community. He also said the Civic Association is not willing to pay as much rent as the county wanted.
“What [the county] has done is they’ve gone away from the initial philosophy that they had from the establishment of farmers markets in the county by nonprofits, and they’re basically selling out the public to increase the … direct revenue to the county,” he said.