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Treasure Island seeks to staff beach center

City officials, who received complaints about lack of supervision at the new complex, will use city workers temporarily.

By KATHY SAUNDERS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


TREASURE ISLAND -- Now that they built the Treasure Island Beach Center, city leaders are struggling with how to operate the complex.

On Tuesday, city commissioners agreed to use part-time city employees to staff the center until they hire a full-time manager or company to operate the Sunset Beach pavilion.

"You need to do that or close it up as far as I'm concerned," Mayor Leon Atkinson said at a special budget workshop.

Since the center opened July 12, commissioners and city officials have received complaints about vandalism, particularly in the bathrooms at the center at 8000 West Gulf Blvd.

Commissioner Barbara Blush, who represents Sunset Beach, said she visits the complex twice a day and routinely receives calls from neighbors concerned about a lack of supervision at the pavilion. "If we have a playground and we want children and families to go there, we should provide a safe atmosphere for them to play," she said.

The beachfront parcel was the site of Bedrox, a gay bar and restaurant, until 1997, when the city paid $1.325-million for the property. Last year, Treasure Island spent another $350,000 to develop the beach center pavilion and park.

In considering the city's recreation department budget, City Manager Chuck Coward recommended that commissioners hire a staff of three to operate the center for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He estimated it would cost between $30,000 and $60,000, depending on revenues from snack sales.

"You can dance around this all the time, but ultimately, we think the community and city would be better served if we staff this," Coward said.

Under Coward's proposal, center personnel could rent equipment such as the city's beach wheelchair, sell snacks, clean the restrooms, and rent the pavilion for private parties. He said he has received at least six calls in the past two weeks from residents who want to rent the beachfront property.

The manager suggested using money from the city's beach fund to subsidize the center's operations until the complex becomes self-supporting. The beach fund, with a current balance of about $450,000, was established in the 1980s to pay for beach-related projects.

"I think it is an outstanding idea; we've built it and we cannot let it sit there unattended," said Commissioner Mary Maloof.

Commissioner Butch Ellsworth said he supported the idea of staffing the center, but he objected to the city operating the concession stand. When the city opens the concession area, Ellsworth wants a private company to run it.

"I think we ought to lease it instead of getting into the restaurant business," he said.

Recreation Director Cathy Hayduke said sales at the concession stand will be limited to snacks and drinks. She and Coward said they didn't believe a private vendor could make much money at the pavilion.

It would be easier and cheaper, Coward said, for the city to operate the center.

Commissioner Blush said Sunset Beach residents don't want to see the concession area grow into a restaurant with food aromas, delivery trucks and early or late hours.

"The residents want minimal concessions," she said.

But Coward said his main reason for suggesting the city operate the center is to maintain control of the operations.

"No one will know the values of the city better than the city staff," he said.

Maloof agreed: "Nobody is going to have the sense of responsibility that we have in protecting our own property."

Commissioners said they will discuss Coward's proposal at their next workshop, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall at 120 108th Ave.

In the meantime, Coward said, he will arrange for city employees to operate the center on a temporary basis until a full-time manager is hired or until the city selects a vendor to operate the concession area and manage the pavilion. He also has asked Treasure Island's police officers to increase patrols of the pavilion area.

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