DUNEDIN — In a controversial 4-1 vote Thursday night, city commissioners approved a city committee's recommendation to hire Temple Terrace-based Tampa Bay Markets to manage the city's Green Market, instead of founder and longtime manager Richard Kendler of Dunedin.
Committee members said they believed Tampa Bay Markets deserved the contract based on its plans to expand the market through social media, partnerships with groups like Dunedin Fine Art Center, exploration of a children's market and other means.
Under past contracts, city officials had paid Kendler to run the market for them each Friday and Saturday at Pioneer Park downtown. Under a restructuring that brings the contract in line with city policy, Tampa Bay Markets will also assume all accounting operations and pay the city $142,000 in rent over the five-year contract. Kendler had offered $38,750.
The market will open Nov. 15.
"We are excited about the transition," said Tampa Bay Markets co-owner Tiffany Ferrecchia. "We've got our work cut out for us, so we'll be getting with the vendors and working hard to create a fantastic opening day."
The decision followed weeks of uproar during which Kendler, vendors, customers and city residents lobbied commissioners via email and Facebook to retain Kendler, who founded the market in 2004. Saying Tampa Bay Markets was not "local," they accused the city of valuing money over tradition and over what city officials acknowledged was a "good job" done by Kendler.
Sixteen of the 50 to 60 people who packed City Hall on Thursday spoke publicly. A common refrain among Kendler's supporters was "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Multiple vendors complained that the uncertainty over management had thrown their livelihoods into flux or that they can't afford Tampa Bay Markets' booth fees. They expressed worries that Tampa Bay Markets was forming a monopoly that could hurt vendors if they ever clashed with the owners or that Dunedin's quaint event would become a "cookie cutter" replica of larger markets. Several people said Kendler himself was a brand that attracted customers and sellers.
"I feel like this is a slap in the face to Richard for all his hard work," said customer William Brummitt.
Several Tampa Bay Markets vendors, on the other hand, said the owners were professional and had offered advertising and other advice that helped their businesses grow.
In casting the lone "nay" vote, Commissioner Heather Gracy said she was impressed with Tampa Bay Markets, but questioned the company's marketing and revenue projections. "I have to stay with what's working and what's been proven," she said.
Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski noted that the market and Pioneer Park belong to the city and its residents — not to Kendler — and that it is commissioners' duty to secure the best deal on their behalf. She said there was an 80-point gap between Tampa Bay Markets and Kendler in the committee's evaluation. Tampa Bay Markets "has a more sophisticated tool of marketing to bring more people into downtown to benefit all people," Bujalski said. "It's not just about the money, though it's a bonus."
Kendler, meanwhile, said he already has another market in the works, slated to start at Countryside High School soon.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.