Smithers Airport’s food service will continue as a manned-cafe after Smithers Council signed a five-year lease agreement with Bugwood Bean.
The prior contractor for food services at the airport submitted their resignation on June 30 and the Town immediately issued a call for Request for Proposals to take over.
A Town report said that when the RFP closed on July 28 there was only one proposal received.
It was a proposal that appears to work out well for the airport and for the Council as a whole, despite some concerns.
The Town is set to pay Bugwood Bean $3,880 a month to provide the service of the cafe over the five years.
That approximately works out to $233,000, on five 12-month cycles.
They will also be the contractor responsible for collecting parking fees and issuing parking passes for the airport. For that service they will be paid a 15 per cent commission on fees collected by the cafe. (Bugwood Bean is, however, stipulated to be required to pay for two annual parking passes for their staff.)
The item set off a discussion at council over the value to the Town of even providing a manned food establishment at the airport.
Councillor Mark Bandstra wondered if the cost is worth it to have people operate the station rather than provide vending machines. He was reflecting comments from Airport Manager Rob Blackburn that it has been a traditionally difficult location to earn profit from.
Blackburn responded to the concerns noting that many users of the airport have complained since the cafe has closed down.
Going to a vending machine-only model would be a big mistake, he said. The airport without one would look unprofessional and small.
Frank Wray was also concerned about the hit to the Town over the cost, suggesting that, possibly, the money spent could instead go to developing washrooms in the waiting area.
Bandstra added after that he’d like to see the lease written to provide more incentive for the cafe to operate in a more sustainable way.
Blackburn said that a five-year lease does do that — it’s a significant amount of time for a business — and the contractor has made it a goal to eventually make the cafe a seven-day a week operation, at their own additional cost.
When it came time to vote, Wray noted that he had thought of voting against the motion but had been convinced that the lease was good.
Mark Bandstra was the sole vote in opposition to the agreement.
After the council meeting, Mayor Cress Farrow discussed the contract.
“It’s not a subsidy to a business, they’re just providing a service for the Town of Smithers,” he said.
The monthly cost is also lower than the Town has historically spent on food services at the airport.
“That certainly is a lot lower than we have been paying for the past number of years,” he said. “We felt that it’s very much warranted to provide service to the public.”