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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Downtown Clearwater farmers market could return under new management

CLEARWATER — A downtown farmers market is expected to return to the waterfront for a third season this fall, but a new face is likely to be running the show.

The city is negotiating with Orlando-based Red Top Productions and expects to have the company launching a new market on Thanksgiving weekend, according to Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar.

Natalie Nagengast, who operated the Pierce Street Market for two seasons, was disqualified from the bidding process because she failed to disclose her list of vendors, a requirement for consideration.

The city originally put the market contract out to bid for the first time in June after Nagengast ran the market for two seven-month seasons on a special-event application. Because the private business was using public property and received $30,000 in cash grants from the city since 2016, Dunbar said the event had evolved to a point requiring a competitive bid.

Nagengast submitted an application but did not provide all required information.

"The requested information could not be considered confidential or proprietary as anyone could gather such information by simply attending one of their respective markets and observing the vendors who were present," purchasing manager Alyce Benge stated in a letter to Nagengast Sept. 20.

A four-member evaluation committee selected the Orlando company RTP above Pierce Street Markets and Tampa Bay Markets.

The City Council is expected to vote on the selection next week, Benge said.

Nagengast, who did not respond to a request for comment, has since rebranded her business as Markets for Makers, a series of local events across Tampa Bay.

RTP Productions has managed two farmers markets in Central Florida over the past decade — the Downtown Orlando and Winter Garden farmers markets, each with more than 150 vendors.

RTP president Dana Brown declined to comment on her Clearwater bid pending contract negotiations.

The Orlando Farmers Market was featured on the nationally broadcast Top Chef in 2011 and ranks in the top three markets in the state by Florida Trend magazine. Last year, the Winter Garden Farmers Market placed first in the American Farmland Trust's national contest.

RTP, with 12 full-time employees and 16 part-time market managers, has also been hired to staff the VIP areas for clubs at Daytona International Speedway race events for the past seven years, according to its application.

In its application, RTP proposed 20 percent of all vendor booth rental fees will go to the city's Downtown Development Board and sponsorship money would be split evenly between the company and the city. It estimated $40,000 to $60,000 would be paid to the city annually.

The vendor list provided by RTP includes dozens of produce, crafts, clothing and specialty providers in Central Florida. Its application states "we are confident that RTP can secure 100 plus vendors within a 30-day period," to grow in Clearwater.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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