DUNEDIN – Deciding on a new manager for the Dunedin Green Market brought out passionate people on both sides of the issue at the Oct. 17 Dunedin City Commission meeting.
The public was divided, with many speaking out asking the commission to keep the current manager, who has held the position since the market’s inception. However, many others supported the city staff’s recommendation to choose a different company, Tampa Bay Markets, for the position. Ultimately, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the staff recommendation, with Commissioner Heather Gracy dissenting.
The market has been a beloved feature of downtown Dunedin since December 2004, and until now, the market manager has been Richard Kendler, who operates the market in John Lawrence Pioneer Park. Vendors sell various items, including fresh fruits and vegetable, plants, flowers, other food items and crafts. The manager is responsible for recruiting vendors and coordinating the market events, according to a staff memo to the commission from City Manager Rob DiSpirito. In return, the market manager was paid a salary by the city per event, and the city received the vendor fees collected.
Dunedin has paid Kendler $300 per event – with 62 events this year – to operate the market, plus $500 for a beginning-of-the-year startup fee and $500 end-of-season bonus, totaling $19,600. For the 2012-13 season, Dunedin took in $41,982 in vendor fees, the memo said. The market operates on Friday mornings from November through April, and Saturday mornings from November through July.
It is city policy that the commission is required to issue new request for proposals for all of its contractual employees, and in this case, the agreement period is for five years at a time. Since the latest five years is coming to a close, the city issued a request for propsoal and got three responses. One was disqualified, leaving Kendler’s Community Markets LLC proposal and one for Tampa Bay Markets. A selection committee evaluated the various proposals and ultimately chose Tampa Bay Markets as the one that would provide the best value to the city.
“Change is good, and that’s what we’re here about tonight, talking to you about,” said Bob Ironsmith, economic and housing development director for the city. “Though change can be difficult, it also can be invigorating, and that’s what we’re here to emphasize to you here tonight.”
The market has become a destination, Ironsmith said, as well as a gathering place, source of energy and focal point in downtown.
Ironsmith said said the bidding process does not reflect on the “fine job that Mr. Kendler has done. In fact, in 2009, the city went out for an RFP on the community market, and at that time, Mr. Kendler received the award.”
There were several goals of the RFP, he said, including having the market manager control operations including accounting and liability, and selecting a manager with a plan to bring fresh ideas and to grow the market. Additionally, it was to choose a manager with “a proven ability and experience to promote the market and increase visitors and tourists to downtown,” the staff memo said. “Indirectly, the selected firm could also assist with exposure of Dunedin’s new brand.”
Numerous areas in Tampa Bay Market’s proposal caught the evaluation committee’s attention. One was its experience and ways it would be able to promote the market. It now operates four markets in Seminole Heights, Hyde Park Village, Shops of Wiregrass and North Tampa, which range from 70 to 120 vendors. This showed the committee that in addition to the current Dunedin vendors, that there would be plenty of room to grow and there can be lots of diversity in the products the Dunedin market could provide.
“They will give Dunedin shoppers a recognized fresh market experience,” the staff memo said. “Since the Dunedin market footprint will be seeking only vendors who sell produce, plants and homemade and/or handcrafted products that fit heir criteria and both regulations. Tampa Bay Markets, as a result of experience in graphic design and advertising, also will have the ability to reach new visitors, encouraging them to come to downtown.”
Additionally, the committee concluded that Tampa Bay Markets has expertise in pre-qualifying vendors and ensuring that the priority is to attain vendors who provide fresh agriculture, locally-owned farm produce, plants, herbs, ethnic foods and healthy gourmet foods, the memo said. Priority will first be given to fresh agriculture, locally farmed produce, plants and herbs. Another benefit that appealed to the committee is the company’s strength in advertising and public relations.
The final major aspect of the proposal is that Tampa Bay Markets would be paid a $300-per-event fee for the first year and then receives a $500-per-event fee in the second through fifth year.
“This fee structure is proposed to give the market a transition period during the first year to assess the current vendor pool and build a vendor base under new management,” the memo said. “Tampa Bay Markets has stated that priority will be given to current Dunedin market vendors or merchants of the downtown district, and available vendors that meet specific category requirements will be selected to round out the market offerings. The proposed fee shows confidence that Tampa Bay Markets will work to grow this event and fill vendor spaces.”
Tiffany Ferrecchia and Greg Barnhill, the co-owners and operating directors of Tampa Bay Markets, gave a PowerPoint presentation to explain their plans for the market. All of their markets are in pedestrian-friendly, outdoor areas, and each has its own brand unique to the area and that market, Ferrecchia said.
“Tampa Bay Markets is a local company,” Ferrecchia said. “Our branding promotes connecting local to you. When we sent our branding together and tried to put together a packet of what we want to bring to the vendors and the community, ‘connecting local to you’ really stood out. So that is another part of our mission.”
Tampa Bay Markets also provides merchants the chance to promote their businesses in e-blasts that reach more than 5,000 customers, Ferrecchia said, it also provides fliers and posters so the merchants can promote the markets.
Additionally, the Dunedin Fresh Market will have its own webpage at www.tampabaymarkets.com with a description of the market, the location, directions, and a photo slideshow. Tampa Bay Markets also sends out a press release before each market season to its media list, prints an ad in one of the major daily newspapers each month, posts signage around the neighborhood, hands out flyers, and is promoted on its professionally designed Facebook page that currently has about 3,000 fans.
Cost for vendors to participate in the market is as follows: community and nonprofit groups cost $10; agricultural sales costs $25; and for a general 10x10 space costs $40.
Commissioner Heather Gracy wanted to know why the company wanted to have a market in Dunedin, especially since all of the current ones it has are all over in Tampa.
“I love Dunedin,” Ferrecchia said. “I’ve been trying to move to Dunedin for years now. I live in Seminole Heights, but before when I was a personal Chef and wrote for Tampa Bay Wellness, I came out and reviewed Casa Tina and that was my first time in Dunedin. And I was just floored. And that was before she did her expansion. Best Mexican ever. Just walking around and feeling the energy, it’s really calm and quiet here. It’s really clean, and it feels like there’s a lot of community support here.”
The public was given the opportunity to address the commission, and the current market manager, Richard Kendler, was the first to speak.
“I’ve been here for nine years building this market,” Kendler said. “It’s an exciting, vibrant market, and it grows every year. And every year the city has said to me, ‘Great job.’ I’ve increased the proceeds to the city every year for nine years. This is what the market should be for Dunedin. It’s a great market, people love it. I got a call from someone who said our market is very unique. It has character. It’s special. … The people love it, and that’s where we have been going with it.”
Kendler said he always responds right away to every question and comment that he gets about the market, and he is upset that the evaluation committee did not choose him to continue as manager for the next contract period.
Various vendors spoke, expressing concern that the switch was already set to take place on Friday, Nov. 1, and they were unsure if they would have a job then by having their usual market space. Ironsmith and Ferrecchia both assured them that current vendors get first priority for market space, and Ferrecchia insisted that she definitely wants them there.
William Brummitt of Dunedin, was offended that Kendler was being passed over.
“I feel that this is a slap in the face to Richard (Kendler) for all of his hard work that he has given to the market,” Brummitt said. “To go this direction is taking the charm out of downtown Dunedin. He is a Dunedin resident, he and his wife. They’re great people. He’s always out there. He answers people’s questions.”
However, the speakers and vendors continued to be split in their opinions of which way the management should go. Mac Wachtler of Clearwater is owner of Brooklyn Knish, Inc. and said that going with the new manager would simply be good for his business.
“I look at it strictly as a business decision, and I look at it as black and white,” Wachtler said. “And I’ve done markets from Atlanta, Ga. and supply our products all the way down to Miami. So I know what different markets are like, and I can tell you that the professionalism of Tampa Bay Market draws me. I like that. I do a lot of markets, and our sales have grown tremendously since we started doing Tampa Bay Markets. And I will tell you that they treat not only the vendors equally, but when they talk about the community, the community does get involved.”
Still others, such as Monica Kendrick of Tarpon Springs expressed concerns. For instance, she currently pays $20 a week and does not know if she can afford the jump to $40 a week and is happy with the market as it is.
“It’s my business and it’s my responsibility to promote my business,” Kendrick said. “I don’t want to pay somebody else to do that for me. If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and I think you’re trying to fix something that’s not broken. There’s value in tradition and there’s value in constancy and there’s a lot of value in showing up somewhere and knowing you’re always going to see the same smiling folks.”
The many other speakers were roughly divided equally on each side of the issue, and afterwards Ferrecchia addressed some of the questions and concerns brought up in the comments. Ultimately, however, Gracy was the only commissioner to oppose the switch in managers.
“You hit on some really key things for me,” Gracy said. “Mission statement, tourism, local economy and community resonate with me. But here’s the rub for me, in that marketing is hard to measure. And so you’re going to throw out a 5,000 number and I’d like to buy into that, but I’m not sure that I can. It sounds good, but in the end, I have to stay with what’s working and what has been proven with the track record here. It is unique. We are a unique city and I pledge to keep it unique, so I will cast a nay vote.”
The rest of the commission was on board for change, though. Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said she appreciated everyone who came out to speak. She emphasized that the city is required to issue the RFPs and it is not a personal decision. Kendler has been a part of this process before, and other times he was awarded the contract. She said this is not to insult him and he has done a great job, but this is Dunedin’s market, not a personal business.
The commission has a responsibility to the taxpayers to be responsible with their money, and the committee concluded that Tampa Bay Markets would be the best and most efficient use of city dollars, she said.