Wanchick says “no” to Civic Association “free rent” deal

In a thirteen-page agreement reviewed by Historic City News, the St Johns County Board of Commissioners gave away free use of the County’s Pier Park each Wednesday for ten years.

That agreement, made with the St Augustine Beach Civic Association, was signed by commission chairman Ben Rich on July 24, 2007 and runs from August 1, 2007 until July 31, 2017.

But in recent weeks, there has been talk of exercising a 5-year renewal option provided in the contract; raising taxpayer concerns considering the County Commission’s latest direction to staff to begin implementing a charge for off-beach parking at Pier Park and similar parking locations.

County resident Merrill Paul Roland contacted Parks and Recreation Director Wil Smith earlier this week, copying county administrator, Michael Wanchick. Roland pointed out the expiring 2007 contract that allows the Civic Association to operate the “Wednesday Farmers Market at the Pier”, and to collect rent from vendors who operate booths in the parking lot.

Although required to pay utilities under the contract, Roland says the Civic Association has never reimbursed the county for the recurring expense, as well as required infrastructure improvements, more frequent maintenance, and cleanup costs. Recently Roland pointed out that a private electrical contractor was paid by the county to install a new high-voltage (220 v) outlet — requested for a Civic Association vendor yet connected to the county’s FPL meter.

Roland, in an e-mail shared with Historic City News, likened the subsidy and “fee of zero dollars ($0.00) per vendor or booth space rented,” to “corporate welfare”.

An overarching concern for residents clamoring for more parking, is the private use of publicly owned lots in the city, at the beach, and on other county-owned property.

”Today, the County is confronted with a significant increase in the number of residents and visitors who desire to park at Pier Park throughout the day and evening hours,” Michael Wanchick wrote in response to sheriff’s office employee and Civic Association President, Bill Jones, asking for five more years.

Although the current contract doesn’t expire until July 31, 2017, the automatic five-year extension is in place if the Civic Association requests it by December 31, 2016 — based on the December 1, 2016 date of the Wanchick response, it appears that the request was timely made.

“Allowing special events to utilize this limited beach front parking has resulted in complaints questioning why the County is permitting special activities in this location at the expense of beach parking which is acknowledged to be in short supply,” Wanchick wrote.

But all is not lost for St Johns County taxpayers. The contract provides for termination, without cause, upon 180-day notice by either party. The July expiration date can be honored by the county as well as the six-month termination provision.

“We are open to a discussion of other available options that might allow the Civic Association to lease an alternative County-owned site through the County’s leasing process,” Wanchick said while delivering the bad news.

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