HUNTSVILLE - There was some hot talk about a cool subject at the last Town of Huntsville’s community services meeting.
The committee debated on May 9 the merits of the winner of a request-for-proposal for the use of the Kent Park building, Belly Ice Cream Company.
The company, which manufacturers and sells what was described at the meeting as “gourmet ice cream,” made from local products, was the winner of four bidders for use of the small building at the park this summer.
Economic development and grants officer John Finley reported to the committee that of the four proposals received two offered the same bid amount to the town, $2,000. Following an interview with each of the two remaining proponents, the selection committee comprised of Finley, marketing manager Debbi Miller and community services and economic development director Kari Lambe recommended the proposal from Belly Ice Cream Company be accepted for a one-year period.
The Huntsville-Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce had used the building previously as an information booth.
“Following a review, we would be looking at entering into a five-year agreement,” Finley said.
According to Finley’s report, Belly Ice Cream Company started at the Huntsville Farmers Market three years ago, and has since become a wholesale manufacturer with a client list that represents some boutique grocery stores in Toronto. The product is supposed to be introduced at a Loblaws concept store sometime this month.
“She also sells her product in local stores,” he said of the business owner. “It is a specialty item. It is not for everyone. It is a very, very high-end ice cream.”
However, the winning bid did not sit well with one committee member.
Coun. John Davis said he would be voting against accepting the recommendation. He said that the other bidder, later identified in the meeting as The Nutty Chocolatier, has been in business in the town for a number of years and has been a good community member.
“This is a business that gives freely to Muskoka Heritage Place every year (annual Easter egg hunt) and is actually a leader in the downtown … (it) goes outside the normal avenues of time and stays open evenings and does a lot of little things to make the downtown core a viable part of our community. To not have them as the winner of that (bid), when they were in fact equal to the other company, to me, is not right.”
He said that by accepting Belly Ice Cream Company’s bid, the committee was “putting undue strain on a very good merchant and supporter of the downtown.”
Finley said that selection committee realized it had two close bids for the property, but that the scoring sheet used by the trio to determine the winning bidder between the two indicated the Belly Ice Cream Company scored higher.
“We are all aware of (The Nutty Chocolatier) contributions. I was the former manager of Muskoka Heritage Place when The Nutty Chocolatier started the whole thing. Unfortunately the RFP process and processes we have followed are outside of those perimeters,” he said, adding that the selection committee members were unanimous in their selection.
Mayor Claude Doughty said that the committee couldn’t discriminate where the local business would be going.
“That’s what is being asked of us, to favour a local business in one part of town against one local business in another part of town. I think that is just not on and it doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.”
Committee member Rick Wearing asked Finley if he had received feedback from the Huntsville BIA about the new enterprise going into the park.
The economic development and grants officer told the committee that he has had informal discussions with BIA officials about the proposed enterprise.
But Helena Renwick, the BIA general manager who was in the gallery at the time of the discussion, said that she has heard some concerns that the new business would benefit from BIA-related activities in the downtown without having to pay a BIA levy.
“That was not taken into consideration for the RFP,” Finley stated. “There is no mechanism at the present time to deal with that.”
Coun. Brian Thompson said he too was going to vote against accepting the proposed agreement, saying he agreed with the points Davis made. He also said he didn’t feel the committee had the power to accept the agreement, especially since the agreement contained the statement “to be provided immediate access.”
He pointed out that the owner of Belly Ice Cream Company, Shelley Westgarth, was hoping to be open for the May 21 weekend, and that council would not be able to officially accept the agreement until it met.
The next council meeting was scheduled for May 22.
“This committee … this particular proposal was not given delegation authourity by council. So I have a problem with that ... it has to go to council,” he said.
Doughty said that the committee could agree to allow the owner of the Belly Ice Cream Company access to the building for a one-week deal that would include the long weekend, thus giving council the opportunity to formally accept the agreement at its next meeting.
Finley noted that Westgarth has been informed that if she gained access to the building and then the agreement was turned down by council she would have to vacate the building and restore it to its previous state.
Thompson requested a recorded vote. The motion to accept a 10-day lease for the property starting May 13 passed 5-2, with Thompson and Davis voting against the deal.