Ludington resident raises concerns about Stearns Park concessions 

June 30, 2023

Ludington resident raises concerns about Stearns Park concessions 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

LUDINGTON — A Ludington resident has raised concerns about the concession business at Stearns Park. Jamie Loney, a Ludington-based real estate agent, spoke during public comment of the City Council meeting Monday evening, addressing the council on his concerns with the recent addition of a merchandise hut that has been placed adjacent to the south concession stand, the sale of merchandise from the concessions, and the long-range plans of the concessionaires to possibly sell alcohol at the concessions. 

New concession operators Lara and Zack Webster of Pere Marquette Township, have plans to make the concession area more profitable and also more engaging with beachgoers. The Websters recently added a merchandise hut, with plans to sell a variety of beach-related items and souvenirs. Long term plans include the possibility of serving alcohol. Stearns Park rules allow for the consumption of alcohol on the beach and in the picnic area. 

During its Jan. 23 regular meeting, the council approved an ordinance that entered the city into a contract with the Websters, who own Brunch Babes food truck located at the 10 Spot in Pere Marquette Township. The concessionaires are allowed to sell concessions at both the north and south concession stands in exchange for maintaining and cleaning the bathrooms in both facilities, an expense that would normally cost the city between $15,000 to $20,000 a year. In addition to operating the concession stands, the contract also calls for the concessionaires to maintain and oversee the shuffleboard courts located on the south side of Stearns Park. 

In 2022, the Websters responded to a request for proposals by the city’s Cemetery, Parks, and Recreation Committee. Webster’s proposal called for naming the concession stands “The Sandbox.” “It allows those coming to the beach to have a fun experience and make memories,” the minutes of the Nov. 21, 2022 Cemetery, Parks and Recreation Committee note. 

The Websters’ proposal also called for rentals of paddle boards, kayaks, cabana chairs and umbrellas. 

“She (Lara) foresees the chairs and umbrellas being placed in one general area, close to the north stand and not spread out up and down the entire beach,” the minutes stated. 

“In the center of the beach she would like to place a small removable tiki hut where she would sell homemade popsicles and ice cream bars. Again, a product different from what you could buy in the store. Unique, different but also quality items. In addition, she would sell merchandise such as beach toys, sunscreen, etc.” 

The minutes then state Webster’s plans for the south concession area. 

“She envisions a small tiki bar, scaled outdoor seating, an entertainment stage and a merchandise hut. Most seating would be actually in the sand, light music and shade protection.” 

Lara Webster also proposed a deck that would be built on pallets so it would be removable. 

During the Jan. 23 meeting of the City Council, Webster stated that her intention is not a “bar scene” if alcohol were to be allowed, but rather, a “craft cocktail vacation experience.”

The contract with the concessionaire states that any sale or consumption of alcohol or any alcoholic beverages whatsoever in the Stearns Park concession stands requires a mutual agreement between the city and concessionaire, along with the appropriate licensing. It would require additional council action, which is currently not planned. 

In the contract any changes to the concessions can be approved by the city manager. City Manager Mitch Foster said Webster had requested the addition of a merchandise hut and merchandise sales, as well as an ice cream cart. He said he wasn’t comfortable making those changes alone, so he brought the requests up to the Cemetery, Parks and Recreation Committee, which consists of city councilors Cheri Stibitz, Kathy Winczewski and Wally Cain. That committee approved the changes. 

“I don’t believe there should be a merchandise shed for beach sales at that location for personal gain,” Loney said. “Sheds are not owned by the city and the concessionaires do not pay the city taxes.”

Loney said he believes merchandise sales there compete against the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA), a non-profit organization that leases the North Breakwater Lighthouse and sells tours and merchandise from the lighthouse. Since the addition of the merchandise shed, Webster has offered to sell merchandise for the SPLKA. 

“That was not the intention of the Stearns family when the beach was sold to the City of Ludington,” Loney said.

During the June 27, 2023 meeting of the Cemetery, Parks and Recreation Committee, Jack Greve, executive director of the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA), spoke about concerns he had with the Stearns Park concessions selling merchandise. SPLKA operates the North Breakwater Lighthouse, offering tours of the lighthouse, for a fee, and selling merchandise from the lighthouse. It also operates Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Little Sable Point Lighthouse and White River Light Station. Greve told the committee that the gift shop at the North Breakwater Lighthouse generates over 50 percent of the organization’s revenue. He did admit, though, that he had spoken to Webster, who had agreed to sell SPLKA merchandise. 

Also speaking at that meeting was Hannah Filter, who lives on the northeast corner of Lakeshore Drive and Court Street, across from Stearns Park. She described the newly installed merchandise hut as an eyesore. 

“She is concerned about more structures being put up on the beach and there needs to be some set lines regarding any future structures,” the minutes stated. 

Loney also spoke at the meeting and said he agreed with Filter, adding that he thought the park concession stand agreement needed amendments. 

“I think one of my biggest concerns was when I asked (City Manager) Mitch foster how many more sheds could the be? He said, ‘technically as many as the concessioners would like and they can put them anywhere on the beach as long as we approve them.’ That scares the hell out of me,” Loney told MCP. 

During the committee’s June 27 meeting, Chair Cheri Stibitz said photos were taken from the area along Lakeshore Drive between Court and Pere Marquette streets. The photos show that most of the view from that area is blocked by trees and vehicles parked at the beach. 

Stibitz also said that Webster is working with Gateway to Success Academy to sell t-shirts that were designed by the students. All the proceeds of the sales go back to the academy. 

Additional items being sold at the merchandise hut, according to Zack Webster, who spoke at the June 27 meeting, include sunscreen, lotions, beach towels, beach games, sand toys, blow-up swim rings, volleyballs, goggles, sunglasses, along with clothing that include the Sandbox logo. They are also partnering with a local business to sell beach-specific jewelry. 

Stibitz also stated that Foster’s response to Loney’s question about more sheds was hypothetical and that the city has no intentions of allowing more sheds at this time. 

Also during the meeting, Ludington Community Development Director Heather Tykoski stated that she has not heard from any downtown businesses regarding the concession stands posing competitive threats to their businesses. 


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