by Rachel Delinski, Herald Staff
February 22 2010 at 0913 | 5 5 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Herald photo by Tommy Vincent: Alive After 5 patrons wait in line for food and beer from Steve Richards' Tailgator.
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Sanford’s popular downtown street party – the monthly Alive After 5 – is in jeopardy of shutting down after a state Division of Hotels and Restaurants spokeswoman this week said the event has been operating for years without a temporary food-service event license.

Under Florida statutes, a temporary food-service event is defined as any event lasting 30 days or less at which food is prepared, served or sold to the general public.

Currently, the Historic Sanford Welcome Center, which puts on Alive After 5, requires all participating vendors to serve food. By definition, this would make Alive After 5 a temporary food-service event under Florida law, the spokeswoman said.

This would also mean that anyone serving food at the event would need to be licensed, inspected and cleared by a health inspector. Currently, only the Tailgator, a mobile-food stand operated by the welcome center’s board president Steve Richards, is inspected for the event.

Spokeswoman Alexis Lambert said the division is currently working with the non-profit organization to help them obtain licensing for the event. However, they’re unsure at this point whether the license would be issued under the Division of Hotels and Restaurants or the Florida State Health Department, she said.

If the event stops

The Alive After 5 event attracts thousands of people downtown, and many business owners in the area have grown to depend on the party for a boost in sales.

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café owner Theo Hollerbach said he sees a 10 to 15 percent increase in sales each time the event is held. The event is held the second Thursday of each month.

“Once you start an event I think you should continue it,” he said.

Other business owners downtown, such as Sanford Wine Company owner Ken Martin, said the event’s closure could send him looking for other locations.

“If this dies, I would seriously consider moving out of here,” said Martin. “That’s the one day out the month you can make your rent.”

Not only does the event attract business downtown, it attracts more visitors and in some cases – residents.

George Smith arrived for provisions at Marina Island on his boat a year ago, on a day the event was being held. After a walk through Alive After 5, he and his wife decided to stay in Sanford.

“I liked it because there was music on the street and it really showcased the town,” he said.

If the event went away, he said, he could always pull up anchor and head to DeLand.

Hollerbach suggested the welcome center consider downsizing the event, and limit street closures. He said the event could still be efficient and profitable for the center if they switched to a smaller scale.

“If you took Magnolia Square and closed it to 3rd Street, it wouldn’t cost as much and you could still have a nice event,” said Hollerbach.

But some disagree, and worry the event’s closure could mean problems for business owners.

“It would be an atrocity if that shut down,” said Martin.

“Sense of community”

When the street party began nearly six years ago, the event was geared towards promoting arts downtown. Artists, instead of businesses, were invited to have booths along 1st Street.

As the event grew, businesses were invited to participate and were required to hand out food. For a $5 donation, guests at the event were allowed two beers and unlimited samples from vendors.

The event brings thousands to downtown Sanford and allows businesses an opportunity to advertise and interact with the community.

Richards said: “Obviously we did something right because it [the event] worked here in Sanford.”

As the event increased in popularity, more vendors started participating. The October event, themed for Oktoberfest, brings in as many as 50 vendors and 8,000 guests to downtown in past years.

Although the welcome center was originally funded through the City of Sanford and Sanford Community Redevelopment Agency, funds began to dwindle in recent years.

Also, increased special-permit fees from the city meant the event cost more money for the welcome center. At the time the rates were increased, the welcome center had to create additional sources of income and last fall raised the price of wristbands to $7.

Finicky weather also added to the equation, ruining a few of the events the past. In the October 2008, a flash flood during the event destroyed nearly 40 of the welcome center’s tents, forcing them to come up with the cost of replacements.

Despite the problems, the event has continued, growing each year. The community has grown accustomed to visiting the closed brick streets each month to see friends, family, businesses and artists.

Hollerbach said: “Stopping Alive After 5 would affect the sense of community we’ve built up over the past five years.”

The cost to continue

With Alive After 5 being a temporary food-service event, the welcome center, as well as each vendor serving prepared food at the event, would have to obtain a temporary food-service license and undergo an inspection the day of the event.

The cost to obtain a temporary food service event license is $91.

If Alive After 5 continued to operate as a temporary food-service event, each vendor serving prepared food would need to pay $91 for a license on top of the $100 charged by the welcome center to participate in the event.

For the 30 to 40 vendors who generally participate each month, the cost would nearly double.

There are some exceptions to these rules. Restaurants that are already licensed through the state can participate in temporary food-service events without obtaining any additional licenses.

For example, Alive After 5 regulars such as Riverwalk Pizzeria and WingHouse of Sanford would be allowed to participate in the event and serve food without additional costs or licenses.

Additionally, anyone serving prepackaged, unaltered food would not need to obtain the license.

Lambert said the division is working with the welcome center to make sure they come into compliance.

“Our main goal is bringing people into compliance and that will be our goal for the time being,” she said.

She could not comment if the center is at risk of paying fines for operating without the license.

Richards said the board of directors for the welcome center will meet Tuesday to discuss what to do.