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War of words over beach park's best use

Will concessions trump public beach's original use?

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published February 25, 2007


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MADEIRA BEACH - Archibald Memorial Beach Park, a half acre plot of turf along the Gulf of Mexico, has become the center of a controversy over whether public land can be used for money- making endeavors such as beach gear rentals or parking meters.

Alex M. Archibald Jr., whose grandfather donated the land to the National Park Service nearly 90 years ago, said Madeira Beach has been illegally using the property as a fundraiser and should no longer be allowed to lease out the land to vendors.

He also argues that city officials have been making too much money off the parking meters along the property and should use those funds only to maintain the park.

The stance has annoyed city officials, who argue they are allowed through their lease with the federal park service to provide concessions that benefit visitors to the beach.

Beachgoers will be negatively affected if concession stands are no longer allowed, Mayor Charles Parker said.

"That's part of having a beach operation," he said.

The city has spent at least $50,000 on maintenance at Archibald Park since 2001, including bathroom renovations.

City officials said they have also spent an incalculable amount of money on policing the area and on beach cleanups.

In contrast, parking meters brought in nearly $91,000 in 2006 alone. That money goes into a general fund, but the city said the revenue is generally used to maintain the park.

A proposed agreement for an umbrella rental stand at the park is expected to earn the city another $8,000 this year.

Without those funds, the city "would have to come up with the money to maintain the beach," Parker said.

The struggle over Archibald Park dates back to the 1930s, when Albert B. Archibald and David Welch donated the land to the National Park Service. The original deal stated the park could only be used for recreation.

In the mid 1960s, the city asked the federal government for permission to use it as a public beach. A quit claim deed to the city allowed it to operate concessions that would benefit beach users.

The Disabled American Veterans were given permission to operate a snack stand in a log-cabin style building on the park property.

But when the city signed a lease with restaurateur Frank Chivas in 2001 to continue the food services, Archibald said he became concerned that the park was being turned into a business venture.

"The original deed doesn't say anything about concessions," said Archibald, a retired Air Force pilot who lives in San Antonio, Texas.

The restaurant agreement was terminated and the city recently paid $500,000 to Chivas in a lawsuit settlement.

The city is considering asking court officials to force the National Park Service to pay for some of the lawsuit settlement.

But last week, the federal park officials said it would not approve a new concession agreement that would allow a Seminole woman to operate an umbrella and beach chair rental stand at the park until the possibility of litigation concerning the restaurant deal is eliminated.

To city officials, it is just another sign that Archibald and his supporters have gone too far in their complaints about the property.

"It's really aggravating, especially when their complaints are not justified," Parker said.

City officials are asking U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, to intervene on their behalf.

Archibald said he is prepared to fight any concession the city allows on the beach.

"We are trying to keep that beach a public beach. There is no need to have restaurants or what not," he said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 20:23:44]


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