MADEIRA BEACH — An agreement between the city and the John’s Pass Village Association to continue the Seafood Festival for another year was approved by the City Commission at its April 9 regular meeting. The vote confirms a proposal worked out at previous commission workshop sessions.
Under terms of the agreement, the city would control and get revenue from parking during the event, while picking up the direct costs, up to $8,500, associated with supporting it. That includes fire prevention, sanitation, road closures and other associated expenses. Those costs have generally run a little over $6,000.
City Manager Jonathan Evans said the city has an opportunity to make a significant amount of money from managing and controlling the parking, as the plan is to charge festival-goers a flat $20 parking fee rather than the normal $2.50 an hour meter rate. Last month, Evans said turning over the parking spaces three times a day would give the city about $23,000 in revenue for the three-day event.
While approving the Seafood Festival for 2019, the commission turned down a request by Evans to extend the agreement for two years. Evans said a two-year agreement would give the city more data on the financial impact of controlling the parking, and “provide reassurance for the community and event organizers” on the city’s commitment to the event.
While Mayor Maggi Black at first said she wanted to “go forward and extend the festival for two years,” other commission members disagreed.
Commissioner John Douthirt said he would not support a two-year extension when the city “had no plan for the logistics of the parking.”
“We have no idea who will handle (the parking), how many spots we have, or how many areas we can park in. It’s irresponsible to approve this for more than one year,” Douthirt said.
Last month, Evans said 133 parking spaces are available at John’s Pass Park and 130th Avenue.
At the April 9 meeting, Evans said city staff “has the experience to work out the logistics.”
Douthirt said the city should do the one-year agreement with the Village Association and then put the festival out for bids.
Commissioner Deby Weinstein said she also was not in favor of a two-year contract.
“We’ve had so much back and forth on this,” Weinstein said. “Keep it for a year and see what happens.”
Commissioner Nancy Hodges said she did not understand all the controversy over the festival, and the changes being made.
“We’ve done this for 37 years and never had any problems. I don’t understand. It’s always worked,” she said.
The Seafood Festival is a win-win for the city and the John’s Pass Merchants, said Commissioner Doug Andrews. He also said the John’s Pass Village Association owns the rights to the Seafood Festival.
“We can’t put something they own out for bids,” Andrews said.
John’s Pass Village Association President Sonny Flynn confirmed the association’s ownership of the Seafood Festival.
“We’ve owned the rights to it for 38 years,” she said.
Weinstein said a request for proposals would let the city “see what other professional organizations out there do these types of festivals.”
City Attorney Ralf Brookes said the city cannot get bids on the John’s Pass Seafood Festival as the John’s Pass Village Association owns it. But “special events of any and all types can be looked at. You just can’t use that name,” he said.
Resident Robert Preston said the Seafood Festival has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community. “It’s worked so well for so many years. Why not just leave it alone?” said Preston.
Black said the commission should approve the agreement to continue the Seafood Festival for one year, and put off discussion on whether to go out for bids on future events until a later time.
Douthirt said he had wanted to go out for bids to run the Seafood Festival because merchants’ association President Flynn had talked about moving the festival to another community, such as Treasure Island or St. Pete Beach. He asked Flynn if she could assure him the festival would remain at John’s Pass Village.
Flynn told the commissioner the Village merchants “want the Seafood Festival in John’s Pass (Village).”
“We’ve had options to go to other places,” Flynn said. “But we want to work out an agreement long term to stay here in John’s Pass and Madeira Beach. We don’t want to go to any other place. If you approve this agreement, we can go after grant money, and the tourists, and grow this city together.”
Based on Flynn’s response, Douthirt changed his motion, excluding mention of getting bids from other festival planners.
The commission approved a one-year agreement with the Village Association to keep the Seafood Festival at John’s Pass Village. The vote was 4 to 1. Commissioner Weinstein, who favored the idea of getting RFPs, was opposed.
Firefighters, firehouse dog and trainers honored
Presentations were made in honor of the city’s firefighters, and the firehouse dog and her trainers.
Selected as Firefighter of the Year in voting by his peers was Driver Engineer/Fire Medic Dominic Bueller. Bueller has taken on responsibilities above and beyond his service as Advanced Life Support Paramedic, said Chief Derryl O’Neal. He has participated in many civic and educational events on behalf of the fire department, and is the lead trainer for Clover, the firehouse dog.
Ever since Clover was sworn in as the local firehouse dog a year ago, the department has worked diligently on K9 training. O’Neal said, “Clover and her three handlers successfully completed the Canine Good Citizen exam on Jan. 4, 2019. Because Clover has three separate handlers, one for each shift, it was important that she pass the test with each one.”
Clover and her three trainers — Driver Engineer Bueller, Driver Engineer Roberts and Firefighter Ubiles — were awarded the Canine Good Citizen Certification in ceremonies at the commission meeting.
Also, special recognition was given to Judy Bordignon, of Sirius K9 Service Dogs and Training Center, for the many hours of time she has donated to the training of Clover.
“She is a dog whisperer,” said Chief O’Neal.