Kingfish tournament pushes back against new fees in Madeira Beach

Tournament organizers argue that the event has a big economic impact in Madeira Beach, including for the marina. Times files (2014)
Tournament organizers argue that the event has a big economic impact in Madeira Beach, including for the marina. Times files (2014)
Published February 27
Updated February 28

MADEIRA BEACH — Supporters of the Old Salt Spring King of the Beach Kingfish Tournament hope to block a city effort to charge them thousands of dollars that would otherwise go to area charities.

If they are unsuccessful, Old Salt board members say the group may be forced to eventually leave Madeira Beach.

Old Salt members and newly appointed City Manager Jonathan Evans will meet next week to discuss a multi-year contract to set future fees and include the value of in-kind contributions and donations by the organization to the city.

If an agreement can be reached, it would apply to the scheduled tournaments April 26-28, as well as the fall King of the Beach tournament in November, plus future events.

The only official commission meetings scheduled before the April tournament are March 16 and April 10.

Old Salt President Tom Verdensky told the commission during a workshop session Tuesday the organization cannot afford the higher fees, which now total $12,280 per tournament.

"We don’t want to leave Madeira Beach, but this would come out of what we give our charities," he said.

The organization was formed 45 years ago and has been sponsoring tournaments in Madeira Beach for most of that time.

The bulk of the money raised from entry fees are given back to fishing enthusiasts in prize money, estimated to total about $225,000 for the April event.

Monies raised through the sale of food and beverages are earmarked for charities. This year that is expected to reach up to $50,000.

Representatives of four of those charities told the commission about the good those donations afford their organizations and constituencies.

Kevin Carlan of the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation said most of his organization’s donations are given out in research grants. The Old Salt donation, however, is used to help patients incapacitated by cancer treatment regimens.

"My event would be the first one that would go away," said Katherin Diaz, event coordinator of the Special Kids Fish, an nonprofit event for special needs children.

"Old Salt gives tackle boxes and fishing rods to over 100 kids two or three times a year," said Robin Conley, of the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

PARC representative Shannon Fernanez said her organization has worked with Old Salt for nearly 20 years. "They are just very important to us," she said.

Verdansky told the commission his group is willing to pay for the city’s "hard costs" (about $2,300) but questioned the new $1,080 EMS fee, which had never been charged before, as well as a $9,000 field rental fee.

"We would hate to have to leave the city," he said several times.

The city’s finance director, Walter Pierce, recommended the commission not waive any fees.

"We set fees to generate revenue to cover costs," he said in a memo to the commission.

Verdansky stressed that more than 600 boaters from all over the world and the 25,000 people who come to enjoy the event generate over $2 million in economic impact at each tournament.

The event is open to the public and, in addition to the fishing-related events, includes music, a boat showcase, kids play zone, an alligator attraction, and more than 50 marine and art vendors.

Fishing teams have already booked the city’s entire marina, as well as other area marinas. One team is coming from as far as Germany.

Old Salt also hosts nine monthly fishing seminars, 12 competitive fishing tournaments in Madeira Beach and other area beach cities, eight youth and family fishing events, and a year-round youth angler program

If the two major kingfish tournaments were to be moved from Madeira Beach, other possible locations might include nearby Treasure Island, Gulfport and St. Petersburg.

Jim Coble, president and founder of 13 Fishing, a major manufacturer of fishing tackle based in Clearwater, urged the commission to continue waiving the recreation field rental fee.

He said his company will be producing hours of video of the event — video that he normally charges $30,000 per each two minutes to produce.

The marketing value for the city "is pretty darn obvious", he said.

Last fall, Commissioner Nancy Oakley unsuccessfully pushed for the city not to waive any fees for the tournament.

However Mayor Maggi Black and Commissioner John Douthirt signaled they planned to agree to the new fee for the 2018 fishing events.

Black appeared to soften that stance Tuesday, calling the proposed contract a "good plan."