Long-time paddle boat business loses contract with Milwaukee Co.

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A long-time paddle boat business at Veterans Park is parting ways with Milwaukee County, but not on its own terms.

For 16 years, residents and visitors have enjoyed the paddle boat and sailboat rentals by Juneau Park Paddle Boat at the lagoon.  Now, the concession is changing hands.

“This is what we do for a living and this just killed us,” said owners Tim and Valerie Ritter.

Their contract with Milwaukee County was up.  An out-of-state vendor had offered $10,000 more for the space, but last week, the County Board parks committee decided to grant the local couple a 1-year extension.  That's when things turned murky.

“We were just in an awkward position.  It was a tentative situation,” said Valerie Ritter.

County supervisors learned that the Ritters reportedly tried to sell their business and contract to the same competitor, despite winning the bid.  The Ritters, however, argue a sale was never made and that discussions between the two companies were taken out of context.

“We know how you went out on a limb and supported us, and we would come back and screw you like that?” said Tim Ritter to the committee.

“I got criticized for leaving money on the table because of local people.  And then you come here and you're so ungrateful and ungracious, it blows me away,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Mark Borkowski.

As a result, the committee unanimously changed its decision and, instead, gave the contract to the new vendor, Wheel Fun Rentals.  A long-time concession lost, which the Ritters say was due to miscommunication by the Board and the Parks Department.

“I feel like we were caught in the middle,” said Tim Ritter.

However, some supervisors argue they only have themselves to blame.

“The whole process, it's a shame,” said Borkowski.

The motion will have to get final approval by the full Milwaukee County Board on Thursday.

The company taking over the rentals, Wheel Fun, says it'll have paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks for rent at the lagoon.  It hopes to start operations as soon as possible.