In a May 17 special meeting, Bradenton Beach commissioners unanimously voted to terminate the lease of Historic Bridge Street Pier concessionaire Dave Russell, operator of Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the pier for the past five years.
Commissioners had granted a 30-day extension of the termination April 18 in order to give Russell time to come into compliance with his lease obligations after falling behind in his rent payments dating back to June 2012.
The amount owed to the city varied over the past two months as city officials and their attorney calculated back rent, late fees and maintenance fees.
The city first announced the debt in March, saying Russell owed the city about $56,000. As more calculations were considered, city attorney Ricinda Perry said in April that the debt was closer to $250,000.
Russell said he had been negotiating with city staff in good faith to turn some restaurant equipment over to the city but, in spite of the fact he cleared up liens as requested, the city attorney denied the arrangement, saying it was only discussed, never finalized.
Russell disputed the amount owed when Perry announced her calculations, including late fees and other charges, and hired an attorney, who offered the city several options to end the dispute. Russell believed his debt was $65,000 and agreed to pay that amount in exchange for a new lease allowing Rotten Ralph’s to remain on the pier for the next 15 years.
He also offered the city $15,000 and would amicably walk away from the lease.
Commissioners discussed the various options and decided something is better than nothing, fearing Russell could reserve the right to file bankruptcy, leaving the city with nothing.
The two sides agreed upon the $15,000 payment with a stipulation that Russell pays all utilities and a $14,000 Waste Pro bill.
Perry said Russell had until May 20 to pay his obligations to the city, utility companies and Waste Pro.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh asked what would happen if the deadline expired without payment.
“We would have to sue him,” said Perry. “But I want to be clear that if we have to go after him, we will pursue the full $250,000, not the $15,000.”
As of Islander press time, the financial obligations outlined in the agreement had not yet been met.
Police Chief Sam Speciale asked for a consensus to change the locks on the restaurant and received it.
City staff and Mayor John Shaughnessy were expected to conduct a final walk-through of the facility May 20, after The Islander went to press.