Parks department chooses out-of-state company to replace mainstay family business
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
MILWAUKEE - Valerie and Tim Ritter have become such a fixture in Veterans’ Park over the last 16 summers, birds and squirrels have learned to approach them without fear.
"We'll miss the birds if this doesn't go our way,” Tim Ritter said, as a flock of geese pecked at the couple’s feet.
Since 1997, the Ritters have run Milwaukee County's popular paddleboat attraction on the lagoon.
For $5, couples could while a half-hour on one of the couple’s plastic boats while taking in a unique view of the city’s skyline.
That could all change this summer, when a Minnesota-based franchisee of Wheel Fun Rentals takes control of the concession.
An e-mail seeking comment from Wheel Fun Rentals was not immediately returned.
The Ritters believe they lost out because the out-of-state company promised the county so much more money their true “Mom and Pop” business could not compete.
"We can't stress enough, this is an out of state franchise business,” Tim Ritter said. “Their bottom line is going to be generating as much revenue out of this lagoon as they can."
Interim Milwaukee County Parks director James Keegan said he can't discuss why the Ritters lost out. Milwaukee County is required to keep the winning bid confidential while the contract is finalized, though Keegan said of the deal "once people see this, they'll understand it."
The Ritters interpret that as a sign that big changes are coming and their little paddleboat business just can't compete.
"If they wanted us to expand and put different kinds of things in addition to the boats, we would be willing to work with them,” said Valerie Ritter. “That wasn't even an opportunity for us. It just came down mainly to money."
The Ritters plan to appeal this decision to the County Board in May.
The Parks Department, however, is moving ahead and has asked the Ritters to remove their shed by the middle of April.