ST. PETE BEACH — Management of the city's historic Merry Pier in Pass-a-Grille could change hands in February.
Commissioners decided against renewing the lease with Dan Peretz, who has operated the facility for the past five years. They are seeking bids that would "maximize" the property asset.
The amount of rent paid to the city, the term of the lease, the type and cost of services and amenities on the pier such as tour boats, fishing supplies, boat slip rentals and the sale of food, beer and wine for off-site consumption will be up to each bidder.
Bidders are also asked to include optional services and costs related to the sale of marine fuel at the pier. No fuel is currently sold.
What the city wants, according to an RFP (request for proposal) issued Tuesday, is someone to operate and maintain Merry Pier, including the docks, office and store facilities. What is not allowed is any boat longer than 65 feet or that accommodates more than 150 passengers.
Those interested in bidding on the Merry Pier contract will be given a tour of the facility during a preproposal conference Nov. 23. Bid proposals are due by 10 a.m. Dec. 14.
"The successful proposal is expected to improve the condition of the facility and services currently being offered to the residents and visitors, while maximizing the revenue opportunity to the city," the RFP states.
Over the years, Pass-a-Grille's Merry Pier has become a gathering place for tourists and local fishing enthusiasts eager to toss a line from the pier to catch mackerel, bluefish, redfish or snook. Or charter a boat for a Gulf of Mexico fishing trip or a floating party.
A regular shuttle also takes visitors to nearby Shell Key for a day of shelling and bird watching.
The pier offers rod and reel rentals, live and frozen bait, fishing tackle, soft drinks, beer, ice cream, sandwiches and snacks. Visitors to the ship store can find gifts, postcards, beachwear and boating supplies.
Merry Pier, at 801 Pass-a-Grille Way, got its name in 1981 in honor of Captain Kenneth Merry, but it dates much further back than that.
In the early 1900s, the Merry family built a general store over the water off Eighth Street. The family later ran fishing charters off the city-owned docks.
The pier was managed by a series of operators over the years. In 1990, the city began leasing the facilities for five-year periods.
When Peretz won a bidding contest to lease the pier in 2006, he raised rents and commissions from boat operators on the pier to offset his annual rent of about $36,000 a year — a $12,000 jump from the previous pier lessee — and costs for renovating the aging facility.
Peretz had hoped to install educational kiosks for tourists and students, as well as a computerized weather station with a webcam for boaters, at Merry Pier.
Neither plan was realized, partly because of the economic downturn.
"We have made some mistakes and faced challenges. We didn't follow up with of lot of the things we said we would do," Peretz acknowledged to the commission several weeks ago.
Peretz said his business suffered not only from the slow economy, but also from last year's cold winter and the oil spill this spring.
Nonetheless, he was unsuccessful in getting commission agreement to renew his lease for another five years.
"I appreciate that the pier has been operated for the last five years by the same person, but we have interest from other people wanting to bid for the contract," Vice Mayor Jim Parent said.
Mayor Mike Finnerty and the other commissioners agreed.
"We have an obligation to reopen the pier to bid," said Finnerty. "Dan is a great guy, but our financial obligation is to the taxpayers."
Peretz's lease expires Jan. 31, 2011. He can submit a new bid, Finnerty said, as can anyone else interested in running Merry Pier.