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Madeira Beach, DAV reach agreement on concession lease

The City Commission and the Disabled American Veterans have reconciled.

Weeks of hard feelings followed the city's decision to end a 22-year business arrangement that allowed the veterans group to operate a concession stand in beachfront Archibald Park.

Last week each side executed an about face.

Commissioner Tom Saxon, who last month voted to evict the longtime tenant, revived the item Oct. 21 after the DAV essentially agreed to the city's original offer.

The commission voted unanimously to give the DAV another chance to negotiate a contract. The new deadline is Nov. 30.

The issue had become a controversy since it first surfaced six weeks ago. Sympathetic veterans groups circulated petitions to allow the DAV to continue leasing the Snack Shack. Some veterans threatened to boycott the John's Pass Seafood Festival.

"I did a lot of research, and I found no ethical, moral or legal obligation for the city to lease the shack to any specific entity," Saxon said. "But I was glad that we were able to bring this back to the table since the DAV has said that they'll accept our terms."

Mayor Tom DeCesare said: "I'm just disappointed that we had to go through this whole ritual when we ended up right back where we started. The city got a black eye in all of this. We looked like the bottom line was more important to us than anything else."

No other bids to run the Snack Shack had been received, although the city had about a half-dozen inquiries from non-profit groups, said City Manager Kim Leinbach.

According to last week's tentative deal, the DAV:

Will pay the city $100 in monthly rent (in the former contract rent was $250).

Will keep all profits from the concession stand (the city used to take 5 percent).

Will be responsible for the maintenance of public restrooms in the park.

No longer will receive 30 percent of the revenues from $1-an-hour parking meters in Archibald Park, about $27,000 annually.

DAV representatives acknowledged that they have not done an adequate job of operating the stand and will try to increase the hours the stand is open.

DAV volunteers work in the concession stand for free. All of the profits from the stand go to maintain a chapter house in St. Pete Beach and finance the group's charity projects for local veterans with disabilities.

Herbert A. Lewis, commander of DAV Chapter 13, is glad the DAV has another chance to negotiate a contract, but he said he was still unhappy that the DAV no longer will get a cut of revenues from public parking meters.

"It's really been quite a strain," Lewis said. "We pay all the utilities and taxes. And that's an old building. It's a lot of work. I think the city is taking too much away from us. That place needs a little subsidy."

The commission could allow the DAV to sublease the stand to another company that might compete better with surrounding sandwich shops.

But the city still has to explore that possibility, De Cesare said. The Department of the Interior, which gave the park to the city in 1972, prohibited using the property for "commercial purposes."