Author: Bill Jones, St. Augustine Beach Civic Association

On July 18th the Board of County Commissioners who voted unanimously to give The Wednesday Market to a for profit company starting October 1st.

As most of you know the Market was the creation of the Civic Association almost 20 years ago.

The Market for years has funded Surf Illumination, Taste of the Beach, sponsorship of City events, numerous community donations and the iconic Music by the Sea free concerts.

The money generated will now be split between the operators of the market and the County’s General Fund. There is no commitment by the County to put any of this money back into our City.

The County issued an RFP (request for proposal) and then had five random county employees rate the four proposals. There are several issues with the process but we’ll address the two biggest issues in this column, due diligence and the business plan.

Did the County and the other private companies do any due diligence?

The answer is no!

All three private companies submitted proposals that would increase the number of vendors by 30%. What the County and the others didn’t know the Civic Association actually shrunk the market by 30% after Salt Life opened and old Beachfront Resort closed.

These events meant the loss of 50 plus parking spaces within walking distance from the Pier Park. Traffic on Market day got more hectic. After meetings and conversations with former Police Commander Jim Parker, we voluntarily shrunk the market and added a police officer in part of what used to be off season. While these decisions reduced our revenue, it was absolutely the right thing to do for the community. So now more vendors will need parking thus reducing parking for patrons.

Now let’s get into the numbers of the winning business plan. You’ve already heard about a 30% increase in vendors, now factor in 50% increase in rent and a 10% reduction in the market’s hours of operation.

Are there really 90 small businesses that can thrive under these budget conditions? If there was a parking garage nearby or a trolley system in place to accommodate more shoppers then maybe this plan would work. Cost of goods will certainly go up and those who enjoyed some of the great bargains our vendors offered will now pay more or look elsewhere. A number of our long time vendors have already indicated they won’t be staying beyond September 30th.

The SABCA Board of Directors is loaded with good people and there is well over 100 years of practical business experience between us.

While we’re not perfect and we could be wrong, we find ourselves wondering about the business acumen of those who prepared the RFP and evaluated the applications without regard to our well known parking issues. So what do you think, is it greed or fuzzy math?