A "Preferred" City Vendor Has Been Cheated By The System
When entrepreneurs venture to risk their future security, and the considerable amount of time and money that is required to start a new business, they should be supported, and at the very least entitled to a fair chance to succeed. Ft. Lauderdale city officials might play by a different rule book as witnessed by one of their own preferred water-sporting vendors who is standing up against a system that has lured him in, and then turned its back on him.
Mario St-Cyr unwound his lucrative commercial real estate businesses just as the economy was beginning to slow. He thought a perfect transition would be into something that was more in tune to his true spirit, and also provided the opportunity for reasonable financial rewards. Nothing inspired the South Florida water enthusiast more than the new sport of paddle-boarding, so he invested all of his efforts, and over $100,000 of savings into this next business venture - Paddles and Boards, Inc.
After devoting over 2 years to mastering paddle-board instructional techniques, designing company websites, and negotiating with the city of Ft. Lauderdale procurement department for the exclusive rights to offer paddle-boarding lessons and board rentals within the city, Mario St-Cyr finally realized the fruits of his labors and was awarded the concession to operate the city paddle-board concession at George English park.
The elation of winning the contract was soon diminished by Mr. St-Cyr's realization that the city would not prevent other competitors from operating at George English Park, at the beach, or any other publicly managed land that the City of Ft. Lauderdale administration was responsible for overseeing. In fact, city officials actually seemed to encourage other water-sporting businesses to operate out of Paddles and Board's "exclusive" contract.
Cate McCaffrey, the city of Ft. Lauderdale's Director of Business Enterprises, emailed a Paddles and Boards, Inc. competitor the following answer to his question whether he can also operate his business out of George English park - even though he does not have a contract with the city to allow him to do so. She stated: "you may run your business from another site and you could launch from George English, but you may not run your business from George English (park)."
Her statements provoke unlicensed, uninsured, and unapproved businesses to operate out of Ft. Lauderdale city parks, without the need of any approval or concession agreement from the city, and to operate in direct competition to the cities' preferred vendors who have been vetted to make sure adequate insurance and safety procedures are in place. The City of Ft. Lauderdale employees are encouraging illegal activities to occur which ultimately undermine the sustainability of local South Florida companies that have chosen to operate lawfully.
Paddles and Boards, Inc. is paying the city of Ft, Lauderdale a monthly rent and abiding by strict contract guidelines to be allowed to operate out of George English park, but at the same time, any other person, partnership, or corporation could also use George English park to operate a water-sport business without needing to pay any fee to the city, and without being required to be insured to operate their business within a public park.
"What kind of exclusive contract do I have if anyone can just show up at George English park or any other city property with their customers in tow, throw some boards in the water, and transact business right in front of my face," said St-Cyr.
"On average, I would file reports 3 times per week to city officials, providing photographs of company vehicles, I would provide websites with the companies rates and advertised locations, I would provide coupon deals that other competitors were offering to do business in my 'protected' location. I then provided brochures and other marketing materials that are available in almost every hotel on Ft. Lauderdale beach," said St-Cyr. "There have been more than 100 emails, letters, and phone calls made to city administration officials since 2009 and nothing has been done to prevent these businesses from operating on city owned property, in clear competition with the preferred vendors who have been approved to operate out of taxpayer owned property - because they pay rent to the city."
St-Cyr exclaimed, "all the photos, websites, company vehicles, brochures, videos, coupons and Groupon deals that they have been provided as evidence was never good enough for the city to protect my exclusive contract. After more than two years, the city of Ft. Lauderdale has not curtailed the abuse at all. The poaching has only increased since the local companies have now realized that the city would not help to protect their vendors.
"The limited space I have to use is being diluted almost every day, and I am the only one the city knows is paying for insurance and abiding by all of the strenuous city mandated regulations that have been incorporated into the contractual agreement I have with the city of Ft, Lauderdale, which requires me to pay a monthly fee to use the location, even though the city is allowing other companies to operate from the same site. St-Cyr continued, "how can I compete with companies that do not have any of the overhead and regulatory burdens and expenditures that I have been forced to absorb."
At least 12 companies have been operating throughout the city of Ft. Lauderdale with seemingly no enforcement from code enforcement, park rangers, or any other city administration office or department. In an effort to curtail city-wide poaching of vendor territories and to further tighten the concession rules, Paddles and Boards, Inc. proposed and worked in coordination with the parks and recreation department to create a vendor concession agreement that would allow paddle-boarding lessons on the Ft. Lauderdale beach front. This was originally designed to be an add-on to the original contract that Paddles and Boards already had with the city, but eventuated into a full bid for proposal that somehow cut out the only vendor who was operating legally - Paddles and Boards.
The Ft. Lauderdale procurement department rated Paddles and Boards in 3rd place in the beach bidding war. "They have rewarded the very companies that have been the most flagrant violators of city code," said St-Cyr. "Is this how the city ultimately treats their vendors who follow the rules? The city manager stated that he was not going to invest city money to investigate the matter. The City manager had absolutely no empathy for my situation. He suggested that I could try to speak at a commission meeting, if they allow me to speak."
Mr. St-Cyr took that advice and made a heartfelt presentation during the March 2012 Ft. Lauderdale commission meeting where he addressed the mayor, city commission, and the city manager to plead, one last time, for help in protecting his exclusive contract.
During the commission meeting Mr. St-Cyr explained to TEA Party Miami members and to commission meeting attendees, "Paddles and Boards has provided excellent service to the residents and visitors of Ft. Lauderdale for the last two years. Every day I tend the concession at George English Park whether it's in the heat, the cold, or in cloudy conditions. I pay the city of Ft, Lauderdale on time, every month, for the use of the public property. The bid you are about to approve this evening is being awarded to a company that has already received dozens of documented complaints and they have been physically removed from city property for operating on public land without a contract. No matter how much money and time I invest in marketing and advertising, it's almost impossible to compete, or survive, if I am the only business playing by the rules. My competitors have never played by the rules and now they are being rewarded by getting their own exclusive contract."
The mayor and commission then finalized their ruling to award the Ft. Lauderdale beach paddle-boarding concession to the very company who has been the most egregious violator. While Mr. St-Cyr ponders a lawsuit with the city, he is hopefull that a compromise can be worked out that will satisfy all parties involved and ensure that Paddles and Boards, Inc. will be able to continue to serve South Florida residents and vacationers for many years into the future.