Festival plans draw complaints from local restaurant owners

OKEECHOBEE — The owners of Big Tasty’s and Jersey Mike’s restaurants spoke at the Nov. 27 Okeechobee City Council meeting raising their concerns about food trucks and vendors being allowed to sell food in the park during festivals, which they believe takes away their business. Both owners said they employ people and pay taxes and then these vendors come in and use up all the parking and the customers eat there instead.

City Council members are with members of the Code Enforcement Board. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble.

Krissy Culbreth, owner of Jersey Mike’s, pointed out the parks are supposed to be used for non-profit organizations, and it seems to her that Main Street is allowing these vendors to use Main Street’s non-profit status to use the park to make a profit. She said she does not think this is fair to the businesses on Park Street who then have to send employees home early because they don’t have enough business to stay open. She said, “They load up, sell, and go back to the coast. They don’t spend money here.”

Mayor Dowling Watford explained festivals happen everywhere, and the events bring people downtown who may not have known those businesses were there. “Yes, sometimes a food vendor might take away your business, but sometimes just having a festival might bring you new business because someone might notice your restaurant for the first time,” he said. He also asked them to consider the fact they are getting free advertising from this because all the people coming to the festival see their storefronts. He continued he knows for a fact many people do not like festival food and will choose to eat at a restaurant if they see one, so they may get more business from the festival.

Councilman Gary Ritter addressed the non-profit issue by saying, “Are any vendors at any festivals in Florida non-profit?

“It’s a ‘catch-22.’ If we don’t allow any vendors to come here, we can’t have a festival at all.

The festival showcases our community, and if we don’t bring these people in, there is no festival.”

Angie Griffin, Main Street president, said it is not the organization’s intention to cause any hard feelings, and any business owner on Park Street is welcome to set up a booth or give out coupons in the park to draw customers to their businesses.

In other business:

• Mayor Watford thanked the members of the now defunct Code Enforcement Board- Jamie Gamiotea, Melissa Close, Ted J. Denisuk, Beverley Bernst, Jim Pippin, Michelle Sanders and Megan Wilt for their service and presented them each with plaques.

• Kim Barnes was presented a plaque for fifteen years of faithful service in the finance department, and Mayor Watford thanked her for her hard work.

Mayor Dowling Watford is presenting a plaque for 15 years of service to Kim Barnes. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble.

• Mayor Watford officially proclaimed the week of Nov. 14-21, as Farm City week, and the council was presented with a basket of goodies by representative of the Florida Farm Bureau, Mickey Bandi.

• Kara DePasquale from the 2018 Chamber of Commerce Leadership class presented a check in the amount of $7,944.63 to the city for new playground equipment for Centennial Park. Councilman Gary Ritter said, “I applaud you. Finally things are going in there.” He said that is something we have been working toward for many years, and it is wonderful to see things finally happening.

Kara DePasquale is presenting a check from the Chamber of Commerce Leadership class to Mayor Dowling Watford. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble.

• The police department will purchase a new 2019 Ford 4×2 single cab, long bed pickup truck from Gilbert Fleet and Commercial for $24,785.86. This bid was within 5 percent of the lowest bid and therefore they will purchase locally. They will purchase vehicle equipment from Dana Safety Supply for the 2019 police patrol units in the amount of $35,409.00.

• Roger Azcona, Esq. was appointed to serve as special magistrate. His position will replace that of the Code Enforcement Board. Mr. Azcona said he will execute this duty to the best of his ability. Council Attorney John Cook said, “I have worked with Roger for over 10 years. He will do a fine job.”

• The final item on the agenda was the budget and Marcos Montes De Oca, city administrator, said, “overall, the entire staff did a great job handling their budgets this year.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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