Manatee County Unexpectedly Cancels Contract with Coquina Beach Market Vendor

The Coquina Beach Market has been operating for nearly 10 years.
The Coquina Beach Market has been operating for nearly 10 years.
Dawn Kitterman
BRADENTON — Manatee County has announced that it will be taking over operations of the Coquina Beach Market beginning in November of 2022. Nancy Ambrose, the market organizer who was contracted with the county to host the market at Coquina Beach, received an email informing her of the county’s cancellation of the contract on Monday.  

In a public Facebook post on the Beach Market's Facebook page, Ambrose shared how she was provided no communication or warning from the county prior to the county administrator ordering her contract with the county to be terminated. Ambrose began her post, 

"I was completely SHOCKED when I received the coldest termination without cause letter out of the blue yesterday. I spent the day trying to figure it out and was so worried about the vendors. I contacted Jacob Erickson, the Purchasing Official that wrote the letter and he informed me he had no idea if the market would continue as he was just directed by the administration to write the termination letter. There was no thank you for your years of service, no good luck -- just 30-day written notice of termination-- that the agreement will terminate at 11:59 pm ET on August 31, 2022." 

To view the termination letter sent to Ambrose on August 1, click here

In early June, concern over the future of the market spread amongst vendors who participate in selling their artisan crafts and wares at the location. An email campaign was organized by vendors who began sending numerous emails to county commissioners pleading for the market not to come to an end. 

During a June 16 BOCC land use meeting, Commissioner Misty Servia raised the subject with the board and county administrator during commissioner comments at the end of the meeting. Servia requested a briefing and details to explain whether there was any action intended by the county related to future operations of the beach market. 

Commissioner George Kruse also acknowledged during the land use meeting having received hundreds of emails from vendors who were concerned about the market but stated that he had not replied to any of them due to being unaware of the exact inspiration of the concerns or any actions planned by the county. Likewise, Commissioner Whitmore also referenced the many emails and stressed her position that the county should make no change to the long-standing and well-attended beach market. 

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh stated that she too was unaware of the cause which led to the email campaign or concern among vendors of the market. At the time, Baugh also acknowledged she had no information about any plans related to the beach market but suggested the concerns may be rooted in someone intentionally attempting to create chaos. 

"It's ironic, isn't it, that all of a sudden we start getting all these emails and none of us have a clue what it's about, you know, because nothing had been said about this," Baugh said in the June land-use meeting. "It's almost as though someone has tried to get people riled up." 

But the half-dozen eyewitnesses who spoke with TBT allege the concerns about the beach market raised in June were not without cause. Vendors retold an incident in late May involving County Administrator Scott Hopes, which they asserted was the initial spark behind the email campaign expressing their concerns. 

Witnesses described an angry and belligerent Hopes who screamed at vendors and market musicians, even ripping a sign from the ground and tossing it into a sand dune. Several vendors allege that Hopes and staff were "tearing" back and forth along the beach market trail at a high speed and scaring vendors and attendees. 

"I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he screamed angrily, demanding to know who we were and what the hell we were doing out there (on the beach)," described one vendor who agreed to speak with TBT under anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Another stated, "If some of them did not have a Manatee County shirt on, I would not have guessed they were from the county. I would have personally called the police on them for their behavior were it not for the shirts."

And another told TBT, "I just thought, this guy has problems (Hopes). He was yelling at us like a little boy who wasn’t getting his way or something. It was the most unprofessional and uncomfortable situation I have ever met at the market." 

Each of the witnesses who independently spoke to TBT about the events they witnessed, was uncomfortable having their names published in this reporting. The vendors fear retaliation and believe that now that the county has taken operations away from Ms. Ambrose, any vendors who make public comments run the risk of the county denying their business’s future participation in the beach market. 

Reached by phone, Hopes denied the accounts of vendors who spoke with TBT. In fact, Hopes told TBT that he has personally fielded concerns from numerous vendors who have reached out to him and his staff alleging the beach market had changed for the worse under Ambrose's management. 

"Many vendors said they felt they were being extorted," said Hopes. "Compared to how the market used to be, vendors told me they felt that currently, it was more about lining someone else's pockets."

Concerning the day of the alleged yelling and bad behavior described by vendors, Hopes told TBT that he was on a beach tour that day as requested by county staff. Hopes said the tour of the beaches stretched from Long Boat Pass beyond the Manatee Public Beach. Staff had requested he take the tour to view numerous points of concern around beach access and safety. Hopes told TBT he was not specifically there only for the market, but that staff did want to show him problems they had identified with the beach market. 

Hopes denied yelling at anyone, and stressed that he was accompanied by multiple county staff, including Manatee County Beach Patrol Chief Joe Westerman whom Hopes said was driving the ATV he was riding. He admits that he did speak to musicians who were performing at the market, but stressed that he never yelled at them. Hopes said he merely requested the musicians to relocate because they were blocking the view of a county-owned beach sign which had important information for visitors—according to Hopes the musicians relocated without incident. 

Ultimately, Hopes said he was surprised to confirm staff concerns about access to the beach, parking, and facilities created by the beach market's operations. "I decided the county itself could do a better job of operating the beach market." 

As for the allegation that he ripped a sign from the ground and threw it into a dune, Hopes admitted he "picked up a sign" and "tossed" it to the side into some brush. Hopes said the sign was a county-placed sign that was blocking a bike place. He also said that bikers told him that day that they were frustrated with the placement of the sign. Hopes provided a photo to TBT of the type of sign in question and said the photo showed how the sign was blocking the bike path and pedestrian through-way. Hopes said he later spoke with the appropriate county staff about where they should place the signs in the future. 

After our call, Hopes sent a follow-up text to TBT adding to his comments, writing, "The contractor never gave me the opportunity to discuss concerns, never reached out to me, but shortly after the day of the tour, she started an email campaign to commissioners, when no action had been initiated, communicated, nor anticipated at the time." 

According to some vendors he spoke with, said Hopes, "The contractor went so far as to threaten vendors that if they did not send an email in support of her beach market to commissioners, she would not rent them space at the market!" 

A sign that Hopes said was inappropriately placed by county staff and that he tossed into nearby brush in order to clear the bike path. IMAGE provided by Administrator Scott Hopes

Public records show that Ambrose entered into an amended license agreement with the county in December of 2020. The lease agreement between Ambrose and the county included the lease (rental) of county property to host the beach market at annually increased rates, per each day the market is held through 2024. 

In January of 2013, Manatee County Commissioners authorized a lease for the Market at Coquina Beach Gulf Side Park with Ambrose Services, owned by Ms. Ambrose. In February of 2014, the county awarded the license agreement with Ambrose Services for operations of the market. The initial terms were for two years, but the market has continued to be successful, growing in vendor participants and attendees since its start nearly ten years ago. 

"When he (Hopes) showed up and was yelling and throwing a fit, it seemed to me he somehow had no idea about the beach market," said one market vendor. "All I could think was, was this guy living under a rock!? How could he not know about our market?"

TBT obtained public record emails that appear to show that Hopes may indeed have been unaware of the market at Coquina Beach. In an email written shortly after the incident described by vendors, Administrator Hopes demanded answers from Deputy County Administrator Robert Reinshuttle and Director of Parks and Resources, Charlie Hunsicker. The subject line of the May 27 email was, "Explain this!" Hopes attached a photo of the market which appeared to be taken from the seat of a county "gator."

A photograph of the beach market taken from the seat of a county utility vehicle. This photo was included as an attachment in Hopes' email to county staff with the subject line, "Explain this!"

In his email, Hopes demanded Hunsicker explain what the event was and to provide a "revenue report." Deputy Administrator Reinshuttle responded to Hopes' email first, asking, "Is that the twice-a-week beach market at Coquina?"

Hunsicker also soon provided an emailed response, writing:

"Dr. Hopes you asked, ‘What are we charging for use of this space and how much revenue is the County receiving per day of use for this activity? As a franchise license agreement, we receive compensation from the vendor on a per market day basis. Since November 2020, the County has received a cumulative total of $45,534. This year’s compensation is $404/market day with a 5 percent increase per anniversary year."

Hunsicker then agreed to coordinate with appropriate staff to provide Hopes with additional details. Debbie Voorhees, Contracts Manager with the Department of Parks and Recreation, followed up with a more detailed explanation of the beach market operations and lease agreement with the county. Voorhees acknowledged that there had been some extenuating circumstances due to ongoing construction project near the market’s location. 

In part, Voorhees wrote, "As you are aware, there is an on-going (long term) parking lot project. My understanding is it was supposed to be completed by January 2022. Last Memorial Day (2021) a notification went out stating there will be 675 fewer parking spaces in the Coquina Beach parking lot due to this project. I am not sure how many spaces are removed at this point since I have not received an update in months. Our Beach Market Vendor/Contractor has suggested alternatives to parking arrangements, none of which have been approved (due to safety and liability considerations)."

Voorhees also wrote, "This Beach Market not only brings in revenue to the County directly (see attached financial report) but also indirectly, in that the shoppers and vendors support the Coquina Beach Café. This is another one of our contracts that has seen a significant increase in revenue, in part due to the customers the Beach Market provides." To read Voorhees' entire email, click here.  

Hopes responded to the information he was receiving from staff, stating that the "beach was intended to be a beach" and that more than 1000+ feet on both sides of the trail were occupied with end-to-end vendors. Hopes stated his intention to follow up with code enforcement to check whether the contractor for the beach market was in compliance with "whatever permit" had been issued, before stating his opinion that the beach market appeared to be creating "safety concerns, parking concerns, beach and picnicking access concerns and the list goes on." He concluded his email by writing, "So, I don’t know who is responsible or accountable, but this appears to be a problem."

However, weeks later, during the June 16 land use meeting, it appeared few commissioners were aware of any concerns raised by Hopes about the market. The only commissioner who appeared to have any knowledge of any issues with the beach market was Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, who spoke during the discussion sharing that he was apparently aware of concerns related to the ongoing construction project combined with the market on Fridays, which impacted available parking at the public beach. 

However, Nancy Ambrose told TBT in a phone call that in all the years the market has operated, there have been no concerns raised with her matching those raised by Hopes in his May email. A Supplier Performance Evaluation completed in June of 2021 by county staff on Ms. Ambrose's beach market appeared to corroborate Ambrose’s statements, showing the market received the highest possible marks for operations under each category assessed, and comments added about Ms. Ambrose herself were complimentary. 

"Managing the beach market is no easy task," the review comments included, "Nancy deals with many sub-vendors and goes above and beyond to keep them happy… while also keeping with the theme of her contract," the evaluation included. 

Vendors who spoke to TBT are disheartened and confused why the county would make the decision to cancel a contract with such a successful market organizer. 

TBT emailed Manatee County PIO Bill Logan to inquire whether there was any identified cause for the contract having been canceled with Ms. Ambrose and whether the decision would come before the board of commissioners for final approval. Logan replied to our inquiry by sending TBT a copy of an official press release and added, "I do not have any further information on why the contract was terminated – only that it was. Since this agreement was a part of a procurement process, no board action is necessary."

Ms. Ambrose, who was aware of the contents of the press release, took significant issue with included statements by Van Ostenbridge. Ambrose told TBT that taxpayers have never subsidized the beach market and that even during the pandemic, the market did not file for any financial support from the county. 

"I collect dues from vendors of the market, and I pay rent to the county for use of the land, as agreed upon in our contract," Ambrose explained. "The market has never been subsidized in any way by county taxpayers." 

TBT reached Commissioner Servia, Kruse, and Whitmore by email to request comment on the situation. Each of the commissioners had spoken during the June land use meeting and TBT inquired whether any had been briefed on the beach market since the meeting. 

Whitmore responded to our request for comment, writing that she was not briefed since the June meeting where the subject was raised, and was unaware of the county’s intention to cancel the contract and take over the market's operations. 

"I was contacted by Nancy Ambrose yesterday (Monday) and sent an email to staff asking what was up," Whitmore wrote, "No briefing to terminate the 10-year relationship with the vendor who started the market." Whitmore also wrote that it was her understanding based on the discussion during the June land use meeting, that the board had mutually agreed to take no action concerning the market. 

Commissioner Kruse replied similarly stating he had not received any briefings, and that it was his understanding after the discussion in the June meeting that no actions were going to be taken concerning the market. 

"I did not have any follow-up briefings on the subject as I was under the impression that we were leaving well enough alone and that the implied direction of the board was to stand down from shutting down a marketplace that was obviously important to so many," Kruse wrote in an email to TBT

Kruse referenced an email that included nearly identical language as the official press release put out by the county on Tuesday. Commissioners first received information about the market in an email from Bill Logan the day before. "Per the email yesterday, it appears that the general policy guidance to not shut the market down was honored even if only in spirit. I have not had any internal discussions about this since the email came out but I intend to," Kruse included in his comments. 

Kruse added that, in his view, the market would become "taxpayer-subsidized" through the action of the county taking over its operations. "Now that we're using actual taxpayer-funded salaried employees and departments to oversee it," Kruse explained. 

Kruse concluded his emailed statement by writing, "I disagree with this being part of a procurement process, so no board action is necessary. The minute an idea comes up in a board discussion, we have inserted ourselves into it and it becomes a policy issue that should be addressed by the board unless a specific state statute says otherwise."

Commissioner Servia appeared to agree with points raised by her fellow commissioners about the recent action of canceling the contract with Ambrose. 

"I had not received a briefing on the market before yesterday. After my Aug 9th agenda briefing yesterday, I asked Dr. Hopes about the beach market and explained that I had received phone calls about it and had no idea what was going on. He later emailed me to say the beach market was not being shut down, but only the current season had ended and that it would be reopened in a way that did not impede beach access," Servia explained. 

"On August 1st, I was informed by Bill Logan, Information Outreach Manager, that the County was going to manage the market for the upcoming season, so I don’t understand how procurement is involved," Servia said. "Look, this issue has been a hot one for a few months with a lot of rumors circulating about the future of the market. The Board sets policy and this matter should have been discussed with the Board as step 1 before any process was decided. We need to cut unnecessary spending – not add staff to manage a beach market that was operating just fine."

Details are unclear as to how the operations of the beach market might change now that it is under the oversight of the county. Previously, the market had operated on a seasonal schedule which included varying days by month. 

In the month of November, the market operated only on Sundays each year, for the months of December through March the market transitioned to a two-day a week schedule of Wednesdays and Sundays. From April through July the market was held each Wednesday and Friday. 

Ambrose told TBT that, as of a June meeting she had with the county, nothing was suggested to her concerning any change to the market’s operating dates or any possible cancelation of her contract with the county. 

To replay the portion of the June 16 BOCC land-use meeting where the topic of the beach market was raised during commissioner comments, click the video below. 

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at [email protected]
Reader Comments
AUG 07, 2022  •  Whatever the politics going back and forth the fact is that the market increases traffic in an already conjested area. The items offered for sale are the same cheap trinkets in every store on bridge st. There is no pressing need for this eyesore, please let the beach speak for itself.
AUG 07, 2022  •  I grew up on the island..I do not like what it's turned into along with many of the other locals.. we have far too many people living here now and I really wish that they would move somewhere else. You can't even get anywhere that you need to be these days.. I mean don't they like living up north? Feel free to move right back where you just moved here from
AUG 04, 2022  •  It’s encouraging to read the comments. Voters know what’s going on here. We should keep the Commissioners who are up for re-election except the one being investigated by Tallahassee. That’s the only way to bring back accountability, decorum, ethics, and basic morals at the County Administration. Poor Ms Ambrose got to experience how Dr Biz conducts business. Yes that’s how he calls himself. Really. No hope in Hopes. But you can’t vote him out. Manatee voters fell asleep two years ago but hopefully will vote wisely this time. Keep Bellamy, Servia and Whitmore. In two years clear out that slate.
Greg Cummings
AUG 04, 2022  •  Leave it to Mr. Hopes, a typical no nothing government employee, to try and fix something that doesn't need to be fixed
AUG 04, 2022  •  How sad that someone with that much power abuses it so. The lies he is telling that are reported in this article make a person cringe. The beach market is such a positive for the island, and thus, the county. We look forward to it, and attend it, every time we are on AMI. How can he, as a salaried county administrator, not be aware of it? I live 1600 miles away and I am well aware. Mr. Hope, you need to DO BETTER! Beginning with, stop acting so entitled.
AUG 04, 2022  •  Hopes' CONTRACT IS THE ONE THAT NEEDS TO BE CANCELLED before he destroys the county any more.
AUG 03, 2022  •  The problem with the current election is that the 4 horsemen are not up for reelection but two of the commissioners that oppose their shenanigans are. The opponents for Servia and Whitmore make the four horsemen look sane. I am afraid that 2 of the 3 commissioners that give any hope of countering some of the idiocy of the 4 horsemen will be defeated ending all hope for a modicum of sanity on the BOCC.
William Kary
AUG 03, 2022  •  These Commissioners need to go. Unless we vote them out we will continue to get the same.
AUG 03, 2022  •  SI, Thank you for the correction. I am aware this is Bradenton Beach not HB but KVO is the commissioner for both so that was my sarcastic remark that he move his parking garage to there and quit bothering HB. Who's mayor by the way is great in setting him in his place. They just keep on giving. Please BT reprint all this as we get near election time.
Kay Pee
AUG 03, 2022  •  Dawn your extensive coverage of important issues in Manatee County is clever, appreciated, and vital! Thank you 😊
Laurel Nevans
AUG 03, 2022  •  So what happens to all of the other permitted events held at Coquina? The Food Truck Festival, Craft Shows, The Privateer's Thieves Market, etc.? There has ALWAYS been a process to obtain event permits at Coquina, and this one should NOT be singled out unless rules were broken. I see no evidence that any were. To me, this looks like the County is seizing an asset that belongs to a Private Business, almost like an Eminent Domain type thing. It's the exact opposite of promoting businesses in this County, and seizing a private business may have ripple effects when it comes to getting businesses to establish themselves in the County.
Kay Pee
AUG 03, 2022  •  Where are we and why are we in this handbasket?
AUG 03, 2022  •  Hopes is a disaster. Most of the commissioners are blowhards and we will pay the price for their incompetence.
Kat M
AUG 03, 2022  •  Hopes is the oxymoron of his name, and add moron to that. Ignorant, a liar and truly a disservice to this community, this county and the thousands of residents and visitors who make it a point to include the Beach Market as an essential part of their week and their lifestyle. Hopes is destroying the level of excellence by rudely and unconscionably removing Ms Ambrose who has tirelessly worked to create a happy, sustainable, unified and beneficial environment for many vendors who rely on the Beach Market for their existence... and an inviting, peaceful, pleasurable experience for visitors and residents for almost 19 years. What was done to her through the Napoleon complex of an unstable and wrongly appointed public official who is supposed to work for us... but rather has a grandoise idea of his position and without working with or involvement of the Commissioners has chosen to unilaterally and single0handely destroy the future of the Beach Market by the very fact that whoever may replace Ms Ambrose in the position.. with the experience and knowledge and professionalism she has to have made this event so successful.. may never be able to attain the unity of the vendors nor the quality of leadership Ms Ambrose possesses.. or even more likely.. that that person may not even exist.. It takes years of trust and relationship to build what Ms. Ambrose has succeeded in achieving.. and bringing joy and purpose to so many in the region. The future for this wonderful enterprise is government bureaucracy and public funds going to pay for what was a true American enterprise funded privately and possessing the essence of what our country was founded on.. and what makes the US unique and the best place in the world to live. My vote is.. do not allow this hothead ignorant bully to ruin our local lifestyle... with a weak Board of Commissioners bowing to him rather than listening to the people who voted them into office and are supposed to be led by the people and not a single dictator. Bring Ms. Ambrose back. She is essential. Hopes is not.
AUG 03, 2022  •  To GRW the parking garage is proposed at Manatee Beach (Holmes Beach) not Coquina Beach (Bradenton Beach). 10 years and Hopes didn't know about the market? Don't believe that. The man is a disaster. Taking it from a contractor who made money for county and putting it in the hands of county employees that will now cost taxpayer is crazy.
Christine Wright
AUG 03, 2022  •  The worst part is the lies from the lying liars. Could Hopes and KVO really be that woefully ignorant of what's been going on in the county for a decade? Either way, KVO and Hopes must be held accountable for their incompetence. Ms. Ambrose should sue Hopes for defamation, slander, whatever she can make stick. Maybe a lawsuit or two will slap some sense into them.
AUG 03, 2022  •  Maybe now they will have space for the parking garage KVO keeps pushing on Homes Beach mayor. "Elections have consequences" is always true.
Patricia Catherine Benson
AUG 03, 2022  •  Get rid of Hopes and VOB, I call it arrogance and ignorance as to what the people enjoy and want.
AUG 03, 2022  •  HOPES AND KVO..THE TROUBLES ALWAYS START WITH THEM..the county Commissioners did the taxpayers and citizens a disservice in hiring Scott Hopes...,So much for the national search that was originally promised. SOME County employees find a toxic work environment and are leaving can't say that I blame them...The issues are that the BOCC didn't know what was occurring?..DO YOU work for Scott Hope or does he work for you?... ...
AUG 03, 2022  •  This is test.
AUG 03, 2022  •  With all the major problems in Manatee County how in the world can the county administrator waste his time with a beach vendor market (especially when obviously uninformed). Manatee County has become infected with a serious case of "little man syndrome" KVO and HOPES. Is there an adult in the room?
Mike Sanders
AUG 03, 2022  •  Going here was always a must when we visited Anna Maria Island, guess we'll look elsewhere to vacation
Mary O’Neal
AUG 03, 2022  •  The Beach Market is wonderful. I think this is a terrible decision and I truly believe the majority of the citizens and visitors will agree with me. Dr. Hopes didn’t know about the Beach Market??? That’s just crazy.
AUG 03, 2022  •  If you see Hopes (or any of the commissioners) running around like a lunatic, please, just take out your phone and start recording
AUG 03, 2022  •  Ther goes Hopes, screwing things up with his ignorance once again.
AUG 03, 2022  •  Hopes is a disaster. It's bad enough they kept him, but to give him a raise is a slap in the face to all the struggling, hard-working Manatee Country constituents. How could he not know about the Market? Does he live in a cave?
AUG 03, 2022  •  The BOCC had a recent opportunity to cancel Hopes' contract and selfishly decided to keep him on and gave him a raise to boot! This man has done nothing but create headaches for Manatee County. $$$$
Cat L
AUG 03, 2022  •   What bothers me most about this is the unwillingness of the board to adjust their perspective on their city manager. It seems they are set on keeping "their guy" in place, that they aren't looking at the situation. My opinion is that Hopes has the potential to make a mess it takes great effort, time and expense to recover from.
AUG 03, 2022  •  VanOsterbridge again. It seems like whenever there’s an issue with the county, it seems to have his fingerprints on it.