MADEIRA BEACH — The 1930s-era log cabin at Archibald Park officially reopened Saturday, offering hot dogs, ice cream, beer and wine to hungry and thirsty beachgoers.
"It is wonderful to be able to get a hot dog on the beach. Having the Snack Shack open is really making people excited to come to the park," City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. said.
He and other city officials, including Mayor Pat Shontz and Commissioner Nancy Oakley, were among many visitors marking the grand reopening.
"It's a work in progress," said concession operator Rita Janecek, who will pay the city $177,600 in concession fees over the next five years.
Since June, Janecek and her husband, Mike, have refurbished the interior with wood laminate flooring, counters and inside seating. In the next months they plan to install several TVs, shaded outdoor seating just east of the beach dunes, and tables and stools under the covered deck.
"It's coming along. We hope it will be a hot spot in the tourist season. It used to be a real busy place back in the day. We want it to be a fun hangout again," said Janecek.
Renamed the Old Snack Shack, but still called by its former name, the building had been closed to the public for more than a dozen years, as the city debated how best to use it without triggering a lawsuit.
The Snack Shack was built in 1934 and sits in the middle of Archibald Park's 500 feet of gulf frontage.
At issue is commercial use of a property that was donated to the federal government in 1931 "for the benefit of veterans." The park, named for one of the donors, was turned over to the city in 1972.
From 1975 until the late 1990s, the Snack Shack was operated as a beach concession by the Disabled American Veterans.
Since then, each time the city considered reopening it as a beach concession, Alex Archibald, one of the heirs of the original landowners, threatened legal action.
Archibald insists the original deed prohibits any commercial use, including selling snacks or renting beach chairs. He successfully protested a city concession contract in 2000 that would have converted it into a destination restaurant.
When that contract was blocked by the National Park Service, the concessionaire sued and won a $500,000 settlement from the city.
In 2007, the commission decided to demolish the vacant Snack Shack but residents protested and a "Save the Snack Shack" petition drive forced a referendum that required the city to protect the Snack Shack and restore it for public use.
The city spent about $50,000 several years ago to bring the building up to code, but several more years went by as a number of proposals were considered and rejected.
In January, the commission awarded the Janeceks' business, Paradise Sweets, a contract to reopen the Snack Shack as a beach concession. In June, the contract was approved by the National Park Service.
Again in June, Archibald threatened legal action to enforce what he says his family believes is a ban against "any commercial use, regardless of scope" on the property.
Higginbotham said Archibald continues to request copies of all permits and other documents relating to the Snack Shack.
"I told him his problem is with the National Park Service. That is who we report to. The city can't just let the property sit idle," Higginbotham said.
Mayor Shontz, who at one point supported either tearing the building down or moving it to another location, said Saturday she is pleased the food concession is finally reopened to the public.