Business Politics

Council votes for more time to ponder airport food services

September 27, 2013

By Jesse Farthing

Mayor Ashton Hayward’s proposal to give a 10-year concession contract at the Pensacola International Airport to OHM Concessions was put on hold last night when the City Council moved to postpone the vote after hearing impassioned pleas from the public, urging them to vote to give the contract to local companies instead.

Under OHM’s plan, nationally branded franchises – Chick-fil-A, Einsten Bros. Bagels, Surf City Squeeze and Corona – would open up shop in the airport, but a local group has partnered with Creative Food Group of New York to offer locally branded businesses instead.

The council chamber was packed with Pensacola citizens holding signs reading “Vote Local” during the meeting Thursday. Seventeen people asked to speak to the council on the issue, including owners and several employees of Bagelheads, Varona’s, the Fish House and Pensacola Bay Brewery, who would open up franchises inside of the airport if the contract were given to Creative Food Group.

The constant thread weaving all of the speakers together was the concept of local flavor and the way that local businesses will give back to the community on a much greater scale. The chambers erupted in applause several times as the speakers made their pleas to the council.

“The RFP clearly states ‘local concepts reflective of the city of Pensacola,’” Rob Mackey, owner of Bagelheads, said. “We took that to mean they actually wanted local companies involved. Apparently, what they really wanted was to be the first small airport with a Chick-fil-A.”

“Except on Sunday, of course. You’ll have to bring your own chicken sandwich on that day,” Mackey added after the crowd stopped laughing

Mackey argued that local companies put twice the money into the local economy when compared to national chains and also cited a survey of 500 passengers inside the airport, 75 percent of whom said they preferred local food and beverage options to national chains.

“We have the unique opportunity to bring local foods, local concepts and local owners into our airport, welcoming new people to Pensacola with something they cannot get at home,” Mackey said. “We can provide them with hand-crafted beer, brewed right here. Fresh fish caught right here. Artisan coffees roasted here. Fresh bread and bagels made here. If this is the type of experience you want visitors to your airport to have, our team can make that happen. If you want a glorified mall with airplanes, then you should accept the mayor’s proposal.”

Mackey’s presentation met with loud applause throughout the chambers.

Audrey Young, vice president of Varona’s, made her own speech to the council while fighting through tears.
“The benefit of choosing CFG and its local partners is that we are here, we are part of the community, we have been part of the community,” Young said, choking back tears.

All of the local business owners assured the council that if they were selected, all of the production would be done locally, and they weren’t simply giving their names to Creative Food Group to franchise out – neither inside of the airport nor nationally.

After hearing arguments supporting the local side for over an hour, the council motioned to postpone the vote until the next regular meeting two weeks from now, which will allow the council members to take more time to look over the proposals and consider what they have heard from the community.

The issued will be revisited on Oct. 10.

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Editor’s Note: The Airport bidding process doesn’t allow contact between those bidding on a contract and the city council. Plus, the new council rules don’t allow the public to comment at its agenda review meeting –formerly known as committee of the whole. Only city staff and the mayor have had access to city council. Last night was the first time the local group could present their case directly.

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  • Wendy LaBarge October 3, 2013 at 8:31 am

    The problem here, which DID NOT change with the “strong mayor” or a new council, is that the constituents don’t believe – actually they know from experience – that their elected officials (with a couple of exceptions only) don’t give a flying flip about them, their neighborhood or their city. This no brainer debate is about $$$ only and the small minded thinking that natl generic brands mean more $$. It is the lack of vision, the lack of big picture thinking that keeps this City on the treadmill, moving in place. Were it not for private citizen QStuder, would anything have changed in the last 5 years? Let’s hope an extension of time will cure the Council of their myopia and anti-local bias and allow them to see the big picture of featuring their local treasures to all who stop over and to those who leave the airport for our region and visit the parent restaurants and areas where they are located instead of heading for the nearest fast food drive thru

  • Wendy LaBarge October 3, 2013 at 8:13 am

    The city guiding/manipulating the RFP process? Like City Councilman Brian “do u know how many cities have 5 flags” Spencer’s behind the scenes involvement in the Upside process? Like city press secy Derek Cosson manipulating social media by posting commentary under aliases? Like the City Admin passing confidential HR docs under cover of darkness? In lil ole Pensacola?

  • Jim October 1, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Another Pensacola juggernaut. What is the city council “mulling”? There was a bid. There was a winner and a loser. Here’s an original idea for Pensacola – Let’s hire a consultant, pay them a bunch of money for their expert opinions, and then do the exact opposite of whatever they recommend.

  • Me. Reality September 28, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I can tell you when im traveling i would rater have a national brand where i know what im getting versus some little local spot where the food might upset your tummy. Nothing worse than traveling with a bad case of the squirts.

  • Larry September 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I was at the meeting last night and watched clips of tape this morning.
    In the city email mentioned by CJ Lewis,from the consultant to the airport contact, along with the glee of a Chick Fil A the money quote is

    “our vision was always a national program”

  • CJ Lewis September 27, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Good writeup. Putting aside whether you like or dislike the barely losing bid put together by Creative Food Group, with the Selection Committee using the wrong numbers to come up with the ranking, last night no one explained how the winning bid by OHM had been found to be responsive to the Request for Proposal (RF) when it did not include any local food element and one sub-tenant (Chick-fil-A) will not be open on Sundays so its employees can honor the Sabbath. The RFP clearly emphasizes local foods and presumably (the public has not seen the RFP) requires the Tenant (OHM) and its sub-tenants/ franchisees (to include Chick-fil-A) to be open seven days a week to include holidays. Unless there is an explanation the public has never been told, the OHM bid seems to be non-responsive on both requirements.

    More ominously, Collier Merrill read excerpts from one or more internal City e-mail that appeared to suggest that the City was guiding/manipulating the RFP process to ensure that OHM got the contract. The e-mails sounded almost giddy with joy over the prospect of a big city Chick-fil-A at the small hub Pensacola pseudo-International Airport (no passports required). The e-mail(s) were sent “before” the Selection Committee was even appointed, the Selection Committee presumably handpicked by Hayward to ensure he got the right result. No one has ever explained how such a Selection Committee can be considered to be independent if it included the Airport Director who serves at the pleasure of Hayward, i.e. if he fails to come up with the wrong answer he may lose his job like a long list of other department heads fired for no good reason, etc.