Restaurant tables overlooking Sarasota Bay at the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier await the bustle of new operators and customers as the city seeks a new tenant. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said the request for proposal process to have a new tenant in place at the Historic Bridge Street Pier restaurant will be a lengthy one.
Commissioners and four potential tenants met at the site of the former Rotten Ralph’s restaurant June 20 to conduct a walk-through of the establishment.
Commissioner Gay Breuler said the scheduled work session was kept basic and informational with no need to make a decision anytime soon.
Gatehouse agreed, telling a fifth interested party at a later city commission meeting, who expressed interest in the pier restaurant, “We will have several work sessions in deciding what we want to put on the RFP. Everyone will have plenty of time to get involved in the process. Today was just the first step of what will be a lengthy process.”
Deputy city clerk Tammy Johnson said she has received several calls from other prospective tenants.
The city scheduled a work session to begin discussion on the details of the RFP at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 27, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.
Former tenant Dave Russell closed the doors of Rotten Ralph’s in May after five years in operation on the pier.
Russell’s business suffered after Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012 and he began to fall behind in his $9,000-a-month rent.
Business began to improve later that summer, but a city provision that prevented Russell from making partial payments, left him unable to pay what became a mounting financial problem.
The issue came to a head in April, when an audit of the city’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget revealed the spiraling debt. It took weeks for the city to determine the amount, first estimating the debt to be $65,000.
With the addition of legal fees, late fees and maintenance requirements as part of the lease agreement, the debt was later determined to be $250,000.
Russell and the city attempted to negotiate in order to keep Rotten Ralph’s open for business, but could not settle on the terms.
In early May, city commissioners voted to terminate the lease with Russell and begin eviction procedures. More unsuccessful negotiations followed and the city ultimately settled on Russell paying $15,000 and vacating the premises.
The city is now in the process of seeking a new tenant and, thus far, interested parties appear plentiful.
The terms of the lease, drafted and approved under a prior administration, proved to be a stumbling block for Russell, according to both sides of the dispute.
The city has pledged to create new terms for the future tenant to ensure a similar situation does not occur.