A 30-day extension to resolve an outstanding debt to the city of Bradenton Beach by Rotten Ralph’s concessionaire Dave Russell to keep the restaurant open was not successful.
Commissioners granted the extension April 4 after earlier revealing that Russell had failed to pay rent since June 2012 following Tropical Storm Debby’s damage to the Historic Bridge Street Pier where the restaurant is a tenant, and adjacent floating dock.
Russell said the pier and long-term dock closure led to the restaurant falling behind on its $9,000 a month rent.
He said business picked back up in the ensuing months and he could afford the rent, but that the city refused to accept partial payment and the debt continued to mount.
Russell said he should have been putting each month’s rent into an escrow account, “but that was my mistake.”
Over the course of several weeks, the exact amount of money owed to the city has jumped from $54,000 to $256,000. Commissioners voted April 4 to terminate the lease with Russell and close the restaurant, but voted April 18 to delay the eviction for 30 days in hopes to negotiate a settlement with Russell.
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse has been the lone supporter on the commission of keeping the restaurant open.
On May 2, Russell presented four options to the city. He would pay the city $5,000 and turn over some of his restaurant equipment and end his lease; pay the city $15,000 and end the lease; pay $65,000 and renegotiate the lease; or simply walk away.
After much debate, commissioners voted May 2 to accept the $15,000 offer with a condition that Russell also pay his Waste Pro debt of $14,000.
Russell disputes that $14,000 bill, however, saying Waste Pro is paid a yearly fee and since his restaurant is closing this month, he does not owe the rest of the year’s bill.
In an email from city attorney Ricinda Perry dated May 5 to Russell’s attorney, William Kaklis, the agreement to accept the $15,000 and end the lease amicably and expeditiously with Russell was tentatively agreed upon.
Perry wrote that payment should be received by May 18 and the restaurant vacated by May 20.
Russell confirmed May 8 that his time on the pier was ending, and he would likely vacate the premises before the deadline.
“I’m not real happy, especially with some of the things that have been said through this process,” said Russell. “The mayor said he didn’t feel I was negotiating in good faith, and I don’t think that’s the case.”
Russell said he feels he made the city a fair offer and that the various amounts of money that was said to be owed left him confused.
“They can’t figure it out from week to week,” he said. “I don’t even know where they are coming up with those numbers.”
Russell said what the city has not shared with the public is that he also was being asked to pay 40 percent of the pier repairs and upcoming renovation project.
“So I’m paying $9,000 a month, paying the city maintenance fees and I’m supposed to pay 40 percent of the pier repairs?” he asked. “There was a comment made that people will be lining up to be the next pier concessionaire. I don’t see that happening. It would surprise me.”
Russell said the negotiations fell apart at the point of having to pay for 40 percent of pier repairs, while the pier is owned by the city, in addition to his monthly rent and maintenance fees.
The restaurant employs about 20 people. Russell said he has no immediate business plans pending, but won’t say “never.”
“My only focus right now is to end this situation with the city,” he said. “I can’t really think beyond that at this point.”
Perry’s email to Kaklis indicated the agreement between the city and Russell would be on the next city commission agenda.
However, the city has scheduled a special meeting at 9 a.m. Friday, May 17, at 107 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.