110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Jen Horton
posted Feb 3, 2014 - 12:35:35pm
The Creative Arts Cafe in Lake Helen is a strange beast.
In the fall of 2013 — when candidates for Lake Helen City Commission were talking about closing the cafe to stanch operational losses in excess of $10,000 a month — more people signed a petition to keep the cafe open (more than 400) than showed up to vote (372) in the city election.
Plagued with controversy from its inception, the cafe has reached a critical point: It is a chronic drain on the city coffers, and — if it continues to operate as it is now — will require Lake Helen to dip into its reserve fund.
As of the Jan. 9 meeting of the Lake Helen City Commission, the cafe was hemorrhaging $13,000 per month. Vice Mayor Anne Robbins said the cafe’s total drain on Lake Helen taxpayers, over six years, now totals about $500,000.
Lake Helen’s city-owned Creative Arts Cafe may be leased to a private owner.
However, in a bizarre twist to the 6-year-old saga, the Lake Helen City Commission plans to consider only one proposal for that lease.
Three of the five city commissioners agreed that because their desire to lease the cafe had been discussed in a public meeting earlier, there was no need to put out a formal public request for proposals (RFP) for a private lease on the cafe.
Anyone within earshot, City Commissioner Rick Basso said, would have had enough notice, and could have approached the city with a plan for the 5,000-square-foot building.
A majority of commissioners agreed that requesting and evaluating RFPs would waste time and possibly take money off the table.
Instead, the City Commission plans to leap on a single proposal by Lake Helen resident Dan McFall. McFall contacted Lake Helen Mayor Buddy Snowden privately and offered to lease the cafe building for $1,500 a month and turn it into a sports restaurant.
McFall presented his plan at the City Commission’s December meeting, and 30 days later, a majority was enthusiastic.
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