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Future Cloudy For Beach Concessions

Ron Hurtibise  Staff Writer   October 6, 1997; Page 01A   DAYTONA BEACH -- Are the days of the family owned concessions numbered along Volusia County's beach?    

  Maybe, say county officials. No way, counters an attorney representing an association of existing concessionaires.   

The News-Journal has learned that county officials met earlier this year with representatives of at least three large service corporations to gauge their interest in taking over beach concessions.   

All of the providers approached, including the Eddy Corporation that controls the local McDonald's franchise, expressed interest in bidding for a beach concession contract, said Hal Buckland, director of the county's economic resources service group.   

David Potochnik, vice president of operations for the Eddy Corporation, confirmed that his company would likely make a formal proposal if asked.   

In a meeting with Buckland and an assistant, ``they communicated that they were going to change the structure'' of concession operations, ``that they were going to do things differently,'' Potochnik said. ``They asked us if there was any interest (from the Eddy Corp.) and I said, yes, there was.    

``They said that they would get back with us, give us more information, and that after that, we could work up a proposal. I think we would be open to whatever options there were . . . including parceling services to appropriate vendors or possibly having one organization do the entire thing.''    

With beach concession contracts due to expire next fall, now is the time to look at upgrading the quality, appearance and profitability -- to the county -- of the operations, Buckland said.    

After learning that the county was exploring its options, existing concessionaires hired Daytona Beach attorney Doug Daniels to represent them in contract negotiations.    

Daniels contends that the county is ``daydreaming'' if it thinks a company such as McDonald's could generate high-dollar profits providing services at current levels.    

``My feeling is, from talking to concessionaires and the county, that the county has a bit of an exaggerated view of the money to be made from the concession business,'' Daniels said.    

A large corporation might be willing to locate in high traffic areas such as the central tourism district, but would likely ignore the bulk of the 40-plus-mile-long beach, Daniels said.    

``They would take a few locations near the Adam's Mark and string a couple others toward Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, New Smyrna Beach, and that's it,'' he said. ``There is no way they could provide the level of service that's down there now.''    

But Buckland says that replacing the vendors -- or reconfiguring existing contracts to require upgrades and higher commission fees -- could help fund capital improvements and present a more professional beach image to tourists and investors.    

``Now, the county generates $400,000 a year in revenue from sales on the beach,'' he said. ``Are all of those cash sales being reported to the county? I personally feel there should be at least $1 million a year in county commission from sales on the beach.''    

Of current beach vendors, only about 20 or so operating in the core tourist district make a comfortable living and have capital to reinvest, Buckland said.    

Others operate old, rusted trucks, worn-out food service wagons, offer for rent weather-beaten chairs and umbrellas, or refuse to open for the required minimum 120 days a year.    

``By the time they drag all the stuff in these things that look like junk vehicles, out on the beach, it looks like you've got a big damn flea market out there,'' Buckland said. ``I don't think that's the best image we want to present.''    

He concedes, however, that raising the possibility of throwing 122 small local businessmen out of their livelihoods is ``fraught with political tension.''    

Most of the vendors live in the Daytona Beach area, barely scratch out a living, and would likely be devastated by a County Council decision to replace them with a single vendor, concessionaires say.    

``A lot of concessionaires have invested their life savings in their businesses,'' said John Greene, a former community college math professor and 17-year concession operator. ``Unfortunately, a lot of people out there don't have much to fall back on. This is all they have.''    

Daniels predicted that the county won't muster the political will to throw the concessionaires out of business.    

In July, Daniels presented a proposal to county officials on behalf of the Volusia County Concessionaires Association Inc.    

The concessionaires propose paying fixed fees totaling $424,000 per year, plus $300,000 per year in license fees generated from one or more advertising/supply deals with national suppliers such as Coca-Cola.    

In addition, the concessionaires would agree to adopt uniform appearance and quality standards, replace current vehicles with non-rusting aluminum, galvanized steel or fiberglass panel vans, and create a structure under which they would police themselves. The concessionaires themselves would terminate businesses that fail to comply with the terms of the agreement, the proposal states.    

Buckland is quick to assert that no decisions or recommendations regarding concessions have been made yet. Informal talks so far have been aimed at identifying options for consideration by the County Council before the current contracts expire in October 1998.    

If the council chooses to scrap the current setup, they will likely choose one of three broad strategies, Buckland said.    

One is to do away with beach concessions altogether in favor of letting S.R. A1A businesses service beach-goers' needs.    

``Who wrote the rule book that says we have to have any vending on the beach?'' he said.    

Another alternative is to contract all concessions with a single vendor. Companies approached thus far have indicated they might be willing to pay the county 25 percent of their gross revenue, as compared to the 10 percent flat commission current businesses now pay, Buckland said.    

That could more than double the revenue the county now earns, plus eliminate the headache of managing contracts with more than 100 different companies, he said.    

In the end, Greene and Daniels predicted, the county will decide their best option will be the third one: to renegotiate with current vendors.    

``I think we can work out with the county a deal that would be satisfactory to everyone, including improvements,'' Daniels said. ``A lot of people need to upgrade at the same time, so there will be good potential for volume buying.    

``There are a number of different ways we could make this thing work. The important thing is that the concessionaires are willing to make it work.''   Cutline: News-Journal photo by David Tucker  Beach concessionaires like John R. Greene, above, worry that the Volusia Beach Department wants to get rid of the 122 small operators.  News-Journal photo by Nigel Cook  A concessionaire's truck in Daytona Beach Shores, bearing the rust scars of life on the beach, displays a bumper sticker that reads `Save Our Beach,' which also could mean saving this independent concessionaire's livelihood as well.    

This article is copyrighted by The News-Journal Corporation  and may not be reprinted in any form without permission.  For more information please go to www.news-journalonline.com/online/copyright.htm.   




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