Petitioners working to save Snack Shack

Demolition of the historic structure is currently scheduled for April 30.

Published April 22, 2007

MADEIRA BEACH - More than 300 upset and determined people gathered at the Archibald Memorial Park beach pavilion Thursday evening to sign a citizen initiative petition they hope will stop the city from demolishing the park's historic Snack Shack.

Those signatures will be turned in to City Hall early Monday morning. If enough resident signatures are valid, organizers believe the city will effectively be "enjoined" from tearing down the 1930s-era log cabin-style building.

But city officials disagree.

"The petition would compel the commission to consider the ordinance, but it does not stay the demolition," City Manager Jill Silverboard said Friday.

That is why petition organizer Eddie Lee is planning a massive turnout of supporters at Tuesday's commission meeting, even though the fate of the Snack Shack is not on the agenda. "There is a citizen revolt in process," says Lee, who says he has collected more than 1,000 signatures so far - at least half of them from registered voters who live in Madeira Beach.

He planned to go door to door this weekend to collect the remainder of the 833 required signatures needed to force the commission to consider a new ordinance.

That ordinance, if passed, would protect the Snack Shack from demolition and require the city - either on its own or in partnership with another entity - to restore the structure to a safe condition, assuming the structure is still there.

The commission decided last February to tear down the Snack Shack. Earlier this month, the commission authorized spending $5,326 for that demolition.

At that meeting, Mayor Charles Parker and Commissioners Arnold Alloway and John Wolbert defeated an effort by recently elected Commissioners Steve Kochick and Nancy Oakley to accept Silverboard's recommendation to postpone the demolition for 30 days to allow the petition drive to be completed. At the time of the vote, the commission did not allow residents in the audience to speak, angering many.

"My phone is ringing off the hook," Lee says. "People want to take their government back. We may not be successful, but if that happens, there are three commissioners whose political lives will be very short. They will never get elected again. The people are very upset."

Petition supporters have even set up a special Web site (http://www.saveoursnackshack.com/) with a history of the Snack Shack, links to commissioners' e-mail addresses, and a plea for area residents to help save the structure.

The Snack Shack was built after the beach-front property was deeded by the Archibald family to the National Park Service in 1931 for recreational use by veterans. At the time there were deed restrictions prohibiting any commercial use of the property.

The Interior Department later took it over and in 1972 turned the park over to the city to operate, stipulating it must approve all changes in the property's use.

Beginning in 1975 and until about a decade ago, the Disabled American Veterans operated the Snack Shack, selling hot dogs, burgers, sodas and ice cream to beachgoers.

Over the past decade, the city leased the Snack Shack to other operators.

Earlier this year, the city paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed after a city-approved concession agreement allowing a restaurant was canceled, partly because of Alex Archibald's objections to the commercial use.

The petition-proposed new ordinance describes the Snack Shack as a "beach icon, a one of a kind link to the area's rich past history and a physical image that recalls fond memories of family and friends for as far back as four generations of beachgoers from the world over."

Demolition of the Snack Shack is now scheduled for April 30.