2017-11-24 / Front Page

Officials mull food vendor rules at Fort Williams

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

While the requirements for the vending site north of Portland Head Light, operated by Gorgeous Gelato, will largely stay as it is for next season, the Fort Williams Park Committee is recommending changing the requirements for two of the site, including relocating one. (Michael Kelley photo) While the requirements for the vending site north of Portland Head Light, operated by Gorgeous Gelato, will largely stay as it is for next season, the Fort Williams Park Committee is recommending changing the requirements for two of the site, including relocating one. (Michael Kelley photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – Food vending will be allowed in Fort Williams Park next year, but could take a different form. The Fort Williams Park Committee met last week to draft a series of tweaks to the program that would limit the square footage and reduce the minimum bid at the vending site south of Portland Head Light and limit the square footage, reduce the minimum bid and relocate the vending site that had been offered in Ship Cove.

Food vendors have been allowed in select locations in the park – south of Portland Head Light, north of Portland Head Light and in Channel Overlook – for more than five years, ever since the idea was piloted for the summer of 2011. After bringing in $10,000 to $11,000 in revenue, the program was continued in 2012. The town added another vending site – by Ship Cove – that season, but it is that location – dubbed site D – that the committee decided to change, in the hopes of attracting the right sort of vendor for the park.

Over the years, finding a successful operator for the Ship Cove site has been difficult. Gorgeous Gelato had operated in that site, but has since moved closer and found success at Portland Head Light.

Committee members agreed to maintain the 90 square foot maximum for sites north of Portland Head Light (where Gorgeous Gelato operates) and at Channel Cove (where Bite into Maine operates) for the upcoming season, but increased the minimum bid from $4,000 to $4,500 to include the $400 electricity surcharge applied to those two locations. The committee is recommending reducing the maximum square footage allowed at Portland Head Light to 50 square feet, with a minimum bid of $2,000.

At a meeting last month, Bite Into Maine operators Sarah and Karl Sutton told committee members lowering the minimum bid at some of the sites may increase interest from the 30 food vendors in Portland who may gladly pay a reduced figure to have a defined location rather than the permit fee Portland charges vendors only for them to then have to fight for the best locations.

Committee member Jim Kearney said he is pleased with how Gorgeous Gelato’s and Bite into Maine’s locations have operated. Committee Chairman Mark Russell agreed.

“We have had success there. It’s a great location,” Russell said of the site north of the lighthouse.

The group also decided to apply the 50 square foot limit and minimum $2,000 bid standards to Site D, wherever it may be located.

Committee members supported abandoning the Ship Cove site because of safety and congestion concerns. After discussing the possibility of offering a site near Battery Blair or the Ship Cove picnic pavilion, committee members seemed comfortable to offer up a spot near the central parking lot, although committee member Joe Kozlowski said that area could be problematic because of the amount of traffic coming into and out of the parking lot.

“That’s what people selling want,” Russell countered.

Rather than settling on a site, committee member Jim Walsh suggested the town issue a request for proposals, which will allow interested vendors suggest the best spot to operate.

“Maybe they will say, I got the right recipe for this and this is where it should be,” he said. ‘Then we could say yes or no.”

Other committee members opted to specify a site, an idea Walsh ultimately supported.

“Let’s throw the central parking lot out there. If no one bids, we are no worse off,” Kearney said.

Committee member Chris Straw, who next month will make his transition to the town council, said he would support the change to the location, but only as a one-year trial. Straw said his concern is limiting the maximum square footage at two of the sites makes it difficult for interested vendors to abide by Cape Elizabeth requirements.

“By having a size restriction smaller than the average food truck, we have created a barrier to entry so anyone in the marketplace has to create a specially designed cart (to sell food at Fort Williams),” he said.

Public Works Director Bob Malley said the size restrictions that have been put in place has sent potential vendors looking at other options.

“The reason we haven’t had people there is because of size limitations. We’ve entertained requests in the past, but they haven’t been able to meet the size limitations,” said Malley, staff liaison to the committee.

The committee discussed the possibility of allowing larger food trucks to operate in the park, but were weary that doing so would create odor issues and impact people’s enjoyment of the park’s scenic beauty and cause even more congestion in the park.

Committee member Suzanne McGinn couldn’t get behind the Site D relocation, opining that three sites were adequate enough.

Malley said the committee’s recommendations will be taken up by the council in December. Bids are due back to the town manager’s office by 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18.

The committee also formed a subcommittee to review bus-related issues in the park and heard from Malley regarding updates to the proposed park manager position, unleashed dog area, draft fiscal year 2019 budget and upcoming projects in the park.

The topic of how to manage the increasing tour bus/van/ trolley traffic in the park is something that has plagued the committee and town council for years.

According to Jean Gross, director of the Portland Head Light Museum, 790 tour buses visited Fort Williams Park this year in addition to 50 smaller commercial vans. The Scenic Route Maine Tours paid $2,200 to have four vans and Portland Land & Seas Tours paid $5,100 to have three trolleys make regular visits to the park. Malley said to date $31,690 in bus/van/trolley revenue had been collected with another $22,725 expected to be received by February. Malley said money from the cruise lines that include a trip to Fort Williams as part of port of call activities typically is received in January. In total Malley said the town is expecting to receive $54,415, which is $5,415 more than was projected in fiscal year 2018.

On Dec. 13, Town Manager Matt Sturgis is expected to provide an update to the council about the proposed job duties and responsibility of the park manager. The position could start as soon as January and be funded through contributions from the Portland Head Light fund and reserves from the Fort Williams Park Committee.

Return to top