CAPE ELIZABETH — Visitors to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth may soon be able to buy hot dogs and soft drinks while taking in ocean views and Portland Head Light.

The Town Council has decided to open the popular park to food vendors for the first time. Until the council approved a request for proposals Monday, vendors had been allowed in the town-owned park only during special events.

Under the pilot program, five permits will be available to vendors of food and nonalcoholic beverages.

Three sites will be available near Portland Head Light: one south of the lighthouse, another near the bus stop and the third near the flagpole.

For the first two sites, separate permits will be available for May 1 to Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. For the third, the permit will be for the entire six months.

The program is part of an effort to generate revenue at the park. The town spends about $236,000 to maintain the 90-acre park each year, excluding equipment and administrative overhead.

Residents rejected a plan for parking fees in an advisory referendum in June, and rejected a different parking fee plan in 2006.

If all five food vendor permits are issued, the program will generate at least $10,000 this year. Proposals must provide the town with a minimum of $2,000 per permit. Proposals are due by 2 p.m. on April 8. Permits will be awarded around April 20.

The vendors’ customers could include the many kite-flyers, walkers and tourists who visit the park. Sightseers come by the carload to snap photos in front of Portland Head Light, and a stream of tour buses delivers visitors to the park throughout the spring, summer and fall.

The program may not continue if there are problems, said Bill Nickerson, chairman of the town’s Fort Williams Advisory Commission.

He said the goal is to generate revenue without changing the nature of the park.

“We don’t want to turn it into Coney Island or Old Orchard Beach. We want it to be there for the passive enjoyment of the visitor,” he said.

To that end, the request for proposals includes requirements that vendors store their carts off-site and remove them each evening. Vendors must provide receptacles for trash and recyclables, and keep the town’s picnic tables clean. Sales cannot start before 9 a.m. Employees must be suitably dressed, with the town having the sole right to determine what’s appropriate.

There shouldn’t be any calls of “Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs here!” No. 7 of the 15 Miscellaneous Requirements and Regulations says vendors “shall not verbally seek to attract customers.”

Peter Cotter of Cape Elizabeth, one of the potential vendors who have inquired about the program, said he likes the idea of offering local seafood — particularly lobster rolls — by the lighthouse.

“I’d love for someone to ask me where I get my lobster and just turn to my right and point to Casco Bay,” he said.

Although Cotter has a concept and experience in food service, he’s not yet sure if he’ll take the plunge.

The short time frame for starting a business for this season gives him pause.

Cotter isn’t fazed by the $2,000 minimum for a permit. He said there’s no better place in Greater Portland for such a business.

“Just like any other business, location means everything,” he said.

Vendors pay about $440 in Portland, with a $10 discount for renewals and an added $60 for nighttime operations.

In Freeport, residents pay $555 and nonresidents pay $850 to operate on four sites on public property. Vendors who operate carts on private property in Freeport negotiate with their landlords.

In Cape Elizabeth, other ideas for generating revenue at Fort Williams Park have been implemented. They include a $25,000 fee for the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race — which ends in the park — and higher fees for use of the park’s picnic shelter, gazebo and bandstand.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said he expects that improved signs at the park’s donation boxes could boost contributions there from a couple of thousand dollars a year to around $10,000.

In addition to regular maintenance, McGovern identified $600,000 worth of priority projects for the next five years, including work on the concrete bleachers, removal of invasive plants, and perimeter fencing.

Not included are projects like an arboretum, which will be funded through an effort led by an independent group.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:
[email protected]