Pier operator’s other businesses gone

From a tennis clientele in Pensacola to off-road vehicle enthusiasts riding a remote trail near Milton, Coastal Concessions seems to have a diverse customer base and be an extensive enterprise as depicted on its website.

But the reality is much different: a shrinking company that has lost or walked away from contracts at the federal, state and municipal levels, leaving it with only one source of income—its management of the Navarre Beach Pier for Santa Rosa County.

Coastal’s partners are currently embroiled in a court fight over the pier business, which produced revenue from admissions of $386,438 last year—all of which must be turned over to Santa Rosa County. The pier contract allows Coastal to run the adjacent Lagerheads restaurant, which had revenue of more than a $1.5 million last year. The company pays the county 5 percent of its restaurant income.

Although the website presents color photos of such bustling businesses as the Fort Pickens Outpost store in the National Parks Service campground at Pensacola Beach and the 300-acre Clear Creek Trails network for off-highway vehicles on Florida Forest Service land near Munson, Coastal Concessions hasn’t actually managed either of those facilities for more than a year.

Neither does the company still operate the food outlet at the City of Pensacola’s Roger Scott Tennis Center.

“I just couldn’t be in several places at once,” explained Stephanie Maddox, a Coastal Concessions partner who is now in a court fight with majority owner Scott Rayner over control of the lucrative pier business, which includes Lagerheads restaurant.

Rayner said of the company’s exiting multiple locations, “Sometimes an opportunity looks good but later you find that the numbers just aren’t there to make it work.”

Fanfare without follow through

To be sure, Coastal entered its now-vanished expansions from 2013 to 2015 with considerable acclaim that included a press release from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam about the opening of Clear Creek. Putnam described the rural trails complex as “yet another example of the many exciting recreational opportunities available in Florida’s state forests.”

But Coastal failed to capitalize on the publicity boost or the newly cleared trails and parking area the company agreed to manage for the Forest Service. One former partner recalled getting lost while driving to the rural Clear Creek’s grand opening celebration and missing the event. He told a reporter, “I couldn’t find it, even using GPS.”

Coastal quietly exited the Clear Creek business in less than a year. The facility is now run by the Forest Service.

Yet news media reports about the company focused on its growth ambitions. A February 2014 article in the Pensacola News Journal heralded still another planned expansion: its bid to branch out beyond Florida to run the Cades Cove Campground Store in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Behind the scenes, however, Coastal partners weren’t sure how they could manage a far-flung Tennessee outlet. One former partner told a reporter, “We talked about one of us maybe moving there or commuting. But there was no definite plan.”

To the relief of some Coastal principals, the company didn’t win the Cades Cove bid.

Returning keys

At Fort Pickens, Coastal’s first high-profile concessions contract signed in 2013 with the National Park Service, the company was apparently relieved to walk away last year.

The contract put Coastal in charge of the park’s Outpost store, the only outlet at the popular Fort Pickens park for everything from camping supplies and bicycle rentals to ice cream.

“Things weren’t working out for either of us,” said Dan Brown, the service’s Gulf Coast National Seashore superintendent. He added, “Sometimes a company finds they can’t make a profit.”

Last year Coastal simply returned the Outpost’s keys a year before the end of its contract at Fort Pickens, said Rayner. He declined to discuss the company’s challenges there in detail but said the split with the Park Service was by mutual agreement.

The Outpost usually continues to operate with scaled-back hours during the winter months, but no new management has been found. The Park Service plans to request new bids to run the store soon. For now, Brown said, “The store is closed.”

He hopes the Outpost will yield better results for a new contractor starting in spring 2018, when a water passenger ferry service is planned to start connecting Fort Pickens with downtown Pensacola and nearby beaches.

Rayner said Coastal might bid on new contract for the Outpost if the deal includes concessions on the ferry.

 

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