DPOA, organizations will have to obtain vendors for arena

Foundation President Joseph L. Rich was surprised to find out Thursday morning that the Disabled Persons Action Organization will have to get its own concession stand vendor for its May 24 Kenny Rogers concert at the renovated Watertown Municipal Arena.

Surmising the city would provide a vendor for the snack bar, it took a phone call to Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner to get the news that the DPAO was on its own. It left the DPAO to scramble to track one down.

“I had hoped this was going to be resolved and better minds would prevail,” Mr. Rich said.

The DPAO was not the only organization put in the same situation after City Council unexpectedly rejected two bids from concessionaires on Monday night.

The Watertown Firefighters Benevolent Association had to find a vendor for this weekend’s hockey tournament at the arena, as well as the operators of the North Country Home Show for its upcoming event. Scheduled for April 15-17, it will be the first major event in the $10.6-million arena upgrade.

The organizations also will have to pay a $250 vending fee for each day to the city for the use of the snack bar. They can pass the fee on to the concessionaire or ask City Council to waive the fee, however.

Jefferson County Legislator Philip N. Reed, executive director of the Northern New York Builders Exchange, said it might be difficult to find a vendor willing to take on the home show, which attracts thousands of people. Paying a $750 rental fee for that time, the vendor may not be able to make much money on the venture, he said, noting it’s also created some heartache for the three-person builders exchange to find a vendor.

“It’s certainly a distraction,” he said, adding he plans to ask for a waiver of the $750 fee.

Mrs. Gardner, however, insisted it should be easy to make plans for the snack bar. They must obtain a permit from the Department of Health by providing their food menu and proving that they have insurance, she said.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Ms. Gardner said, adding it’s a process that takes about a day to complete.

At Monday night’s meeting, council members instructed city staff that the Parks Department will take over the snack bar after they were not pleased with the results of the bids. Ms. Gardner said her department doesn’t have the capability of running it, since it does not have a staff or funding to operate it.

But Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. assured the organizations that the city is doing everything it can to roll out the restored ice arena. The arena opened for business on Thursday.

“We’re going to make sure that arena will have plenty of food and beverages,” Mayor Butler said. “We’re putting together a plan to do that.”

Yet Ms. Gardner said she needs more direction from council members about how to handle the concession stand now that the bids were rejected.

Despite her assertion, Councilman Cody J. Horbacz — who had always supported the city to run the snack bar — hopes the Parks Department will have a plan in place to take over the facility by the time of the Kenny Rogers concert on May 24.

“My hope is that we will be running the concession stand by then. I hope we can roll out the red carpet and do whatever we can to accommodate them,” Councilman Horbacz said. “There’s no reason we can’t help everybody.”

He believes that funding will be appropriated in the proposed 2016-17 budget to add more equipment for the concession stand, so that the menu can be expanded to such things as hamburgers and french fries.

By a 3-1 vote, council members on Monday night rejected the only qualified bidder to run the ice rink’s concession stand after deciding a $350-a-month bid from Maggie’s on the River was too low.

Famous Dick’s owner Kerry Johnson’s $400-a-month bid did not include required menu pricing or his experience, so council members did not consider it.

Councilman Stephen A. Jennings said he was surprised by council rejecting the bids, since he was told just five minutes before Monday night’s meeting there was no support to accept Maggie’s. His colleagues “had no Plan B,” so that’s why the organizations are forced to find a vendor on their own, he said.

Now, the Parks Department needs some time to put together a plan to take over the concession stand, he said.

The concession stand project became a debacle since the Jan. 6 deadline arrived with no bids, leaving city officials to scramble. For weeks, council members also had considered spending more than $150,000 to install additional equipment that potential vendors had recommended.

The arena’s opening also has been marred by some potential problems with the concrete floor under the ice rink.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times