City denies Paradise Grille’s lease extension

Customers of Paradise Grille on Upham and Pass-A Grille beaches can sit back and enjoy their favorite beachfront eatery for at least another five years.

ST. PETE BEACH – Michael Janecek apparently served up a convincing argument to city commissioners Aug. 14 to allow him to continue to run his concessions stands on Upham and Pass-A-Grille beaches.

City commissioners unanimously voted for staff to negotiate a contract with Janecek, the current operator of Paradise Grille, and bring it back to the board for a vote.

After months of negotiations with city staff, commissioners' top-ranked choice to operate the city-owned facilities, United Park Services, withdrew its bid. Initially, city commissioners where impressed that UPS operates the concession stands for beach cities like Madeira Beach and both Pinellas and Manatee counties.

During negotiations, the city decided to take the ability of the vendor to rent beach chairs, umbrellas and cabana services, as well as operate the Pass-A-Grille patio area, out of the lease equation.

At the Aug. 14 meeting, City Manager Wayne Saunders told commissioners the two remaining bidders are Janecek and Barry and Kelly Streib, owners of the Brass Monkey Restaurant on Eighth Avenue in Pass-A-Grille.

In their application to operate the concession stands, Barry and Kelly Streib said they “have proudly operated the Brass Monkey Restaurant on Eighth Avenue in Pass-A-Grill for more than 13 years. We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with the city in providing the highest quality concessions to those visiting our world class beaches.”

They added they are confident that their “33 years of experience in the food service industry will align with the city’s vision to operate its concession stands.”

In their bid package, the Brass Monkey owners told the city they would lose about $4,000 in monthly revenue by not being able to rent beach concessions. They also projected it would cost them $225,000 in start-up costs and proposed paying an initial rent of $8,000 a month.

Janecek noted his financial proposal “is the strongest. I’m willing to work with the city. I love my place. l love my staff, they love their jobs. We have a strong operation, and it’s in the best interest of everyone to just keep it as it is.”

“We took hold of these two little concession stands and in 10 years molded and messaged them into the world class beach destinations they are today,” he told city officials in his bid.

He added there is always room for improvement, and he is ready to implement changes desired by the city.

In his bid, Janecek told city officials he is willing to pay a rent of $15,000 a month, with a 3 percent annual increase.

Several customers and staffers of the Paradise Grille attended the meeting to show support for Janecek. Fans of the restaurant, such as Pass-A-Grille resident Megan Donahue, asked commissioners why “the city wants to dismantle a popular venue and take a viable business.”

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said with other bids the city generally negotiates with the commission’s second rated choice if the first drops out, which in this case would be operators of the Brass Monkey, rather than bringing it back to the commission.

Saunders said in this case commissioners only directed staff to negotiate a contract with the first choice, rather than go onto the second.

Mayor Al Johnson said he favors negotiating a contract with Janecek, since Brass Monkey owners operate a restaurant, which is a different venue from a concession stand.

Commissioner Terri Finnerty said the current leasee offered to pay substantially more rent than the other bidder, which would amount to about $420,000 more a year for the city.

“We can do a lot with $420,000,” she said.

Finnerty added Paradise Grille is a proven commodity with many supporters in the community, and she appreciated their simplified menu pricing structure.

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher spoke out against the spread of rumor and misinformation on social media surrounding commissioners’ handling of the process.

Pletcher said someone using social media said she was trying to get her family involved in the concession, which was not the case, while another lie promoted on social media was United Park Service were friends of hers.

“I never met them,” she said.

She said “it’s really sad that people end up thinking the commission process is somehow tainted and that was absolutely not the case at all.”

“We have an obligation to bid on vendor contracts. I’ve lived here 30 years and this set me back. This isn’t right for people to be sending out those messages. This is not a property rights issue, because this is city owned property. The vendor has a lease and not property rights,” she said.

Pletcher added another incorrect rumor was that the city was banning music at the Pass-A-Grille concession. Under the contract the lessee can still provide acoustic but not amplified music.

She said she is in favor of negotiating for a lease with the current operator.

Commissioner Rick Falkenstein agreed commissioners were under attack, but “when you sit in this seat you take it. I wanted the best contract for this city.”

He also addressed false accusations and rumors about him and his family on social media.

“I had no interest in this property and my family had no interest,” said Falkenstein, whose family has operated the nearby Hurricane Restaurant for decades.

“I always supported Mike,” he said, adding his concession stand has “something like a Key West feel, but it is a Pass-A-Grill feel. It’s time to move forward for betterment of residents.”

The mayor noted there is “a lot of misinformation going around.”

Friszolowski said he is disappointed because the commission is not following the city’s ranking system. He said his concern is for the best interest of the city, “since there have been some issues in the past,” such as whether the concession stand is operated with a “hands-on management.”

The Brass Monkey has family members who provide hands-on management, he told commissioners.

Falkenstein took exception to Friszolowski comments, saying he sees Janecek, his family and staff walking back and forth all the time, and they are hands-on managers.

Friszolowski added he wants the city to have recourse to terminate the lease “for convenience,” if any problems arise.