Negotiations between Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the Historic Bridge Street Pier and the city of Bradenton Beach are not off to a good start.
The restaurant has been falling further into debt after failing to make rent in June 2012. The last month concessionaire Dave Russell made a payment to the city was May 2012.
Tropical Storm Debby’s closure of the adjacent day dock used by boaters is being blamed for the lack of business to the restaurant, but Russell said once he fell behind, it was impossible to catch up with the $9,000 a month rent.
Russell said once the initial fall off in business had passed, he had the money to pay the rent, but the city would not take a partial payment.
Almost a year later, there is a dispute in the amount of money owed to the city. It initially started at $54,000, jumped to $256,000 when late fees and penalties were added and, at a May 2 city commission meeting, city attorney Ricinda Perry said the recalculated amount owed is $115,000.
Perry said in the spirit of finding a solution, some of late fees and attorney fees were removed from the bill.
Commissioners voted April 4 to terminate the lease with Rotten Ralph’s and begin the eviction process, but on April 18, the city delayed eviction for 30 days in order to make a final attempt to resolve the debt.
In the two weeks since voting to delay the eviction, Perry said Russell provided a series of options.
Perry said the restaurant has offered to pay the city a flat fee of $15,000 and will agree not to fight the eviction and leave amicably. A second offer was to pay the city $5,000 and turn over some of the restaurant equipment, and terminate the lease.
The third option was to pay up to date $65,000, what Russell feels he owes the city, but renegotiate the lease to guarantee his business will remain on the pier for the next 15 years.
The fourth option was for Russell to simply walk away from it all and not pay the city anything. Russell and his attorney were not present at the May 2 meeting.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said the restaurant also owes Waste Pro $14,000 and that if Russell walks away, the city would be liable for the debt.
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse suggested taking the $65,000 offer, and for Perry to negotiate a shorter lease term than requested by Russell.
Commissioner Gay Breuler, outspoken against further negotiations with the restaurant, said, “We’ve given them time and time again. Any other landlord who did not get rent for almost a year would not have this discussion. I think we should go right ahead with the eviction.”
Perry said it was only a first offer and that the city could counter the offer at its discretion.
Breuler wasn’t in the mood for negotiation.
“Why are we having this discussion? There is no more time to give and no more money to be wasting,” she said. “Why are we negotiating anything? Kick them out and sue them for what they owe us. I think we have been more than kind for a long time. This is not fair to the taxpayers.”
Perry said the problem with taking that route is that contains only the corporate name.
“I don’t see anywhere in the agreement that they signed individually,” she said. “They could go defunct and the city will get nothing.”
Vosburgh said she would agree to take $15,000 and let Russell walk away from the lease, and Brueler backed off and agreed with Vosburgh’s suggestion.
Gatehouse said his vote would remain to accept $65,000 and renegotiate the lease.
“We have a tenant there,” he said. “It’s not going to sit empty for six or eight months and we’ve recouped some of our money. To me, this serves the taxpayers better.”
Mayor John Shaughnessy said he does not believe negotiations will move forward in good faith.
“I met with Mr. Russell and his attorney and I hear a lot of talk from his attorney like I heard from Mr. Russell, but I don’t see any paperwork,” said Shaughnessy. “At the April 4 meeting, he said he would show up with a check and he showed up with an attorney instead. I think these figures they are offering are an insult to the city.”
Continued discussion took place on a counter offer. Vosburgh said the city should ask for the $15,000, as well as an additional $14,000 to pay Waste Pro, and end the lease.
Vice Mayor Ed Straight sided with Gatehouse, but Breuler moved to deliver Vosburgh’s recommendation as the city’s counter offer.
Vosburgh, Shaughnessy and Breuler voted “aye” while Gatehouse and Straight voted “nay,” but Shaughnessy was not happy with the direction the discussion took.
“Why does it feel like we are on the defensive here?” he asked.
The 30-day eviction extension ends May 18 and the commissioners next meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., at which time a final determination of the restaurant’s future will be made..