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BB pier tenants cite problems, seek rent relief

By Charmaine Engelsman, Islander Reporter

A crane is employed by Duncan Seawall in its work to rehab the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier. The restaurant tenant told commissioners Aug. 20 that construction is hurting his business. Islander Photo: Charmaine Engelsman

Prominent placement of a large construction sign at the entry to the parking lot for the Historic Bridge Street Pier is said by the pier concessionaire to be turning customers away from the restaurant and bait shop. Islander Photo: Charmaine Engelsman

Historic Bridge Street Pier concessionaire Roland Pena and wife Tammy ask the commission to approve a rent abatement on their pier operations.Islander Photo: Charmaine Engelsman

The floating day dock at the Bradenton Beach pier was temporarily repositioned for ongoing construction and — with positive comments from the public and the pier team — may remain in its new location at the pier. Islander Photo: Charmaine Engelsman

Hot, steamy meeting? It wasn’t just the air conditioning.

The Bradenton Beach meeting Aug. 21 dragged out for more than three long, hot hours in a room where the AC couldn’t cope. Some people found it intolerable.

Several audience members left early, while the attorney for the Bridge Tender Inn and Dockside Bar appeared unaffected during her presentation. However, she quickly whipped her long hair into a pony tail as she exited the meeting room.

Mayor Bill Shearon likened the situation to “working in a sweat shop” as the gallery of staff and onlookers fanned themselves with agenda papers and made numerous trips to the hallway water fountain.

It was not conducive to concentration and patience, and toward the end of the session at 4:45 p.m., Commissioner Jan Vosburgh excused herself mid-discussion, saying she wasn’t feeling well.

If nature hadn’t made things hot enough, two hot-button items were on the meeting agenda, including the Bridge Tender Inn restaurant owner’s request that the commission direct its building and planning department to cooperate with owner Fred Bartizal on the relocation of the sidewalk adjacent to the restaurant on Bridge Street.

Bridge Tender attorney Darenda D. Marvin provided a letter to the mayor and commissioners, an engineer’s plan, a proposed easement agreement between the city and the restaurant and a survey of the easement.

Marvin also provided photographs showing how some Bridge Street merchants use the area outside their stores, either for restaurant service or to display merchandise.

Shearon disclosed that he had met with Bartizal to review the area in question.

City planner Alan Garrett said the city attorney reviewed the easement agreement and proposed it be amended so that the area in question, directly in front of the restaurant, would not be classified as a sidewalk.

Vice Mayor Jack Clarke asked if this would mean a loss of parking spaces, to which Marvin responded it “absolutely would not.”

Clarke also asked for clarification on the Bridge Tender working with city staff and Marvin said they were directed to a meeting with the commission, and “so here we are.”

Asked to weigh in, Vosburgh said she liked the plan. Commissioner Ed Straight said he was in favor of moving the matter to staff, and Clarke had no further comment.

Commissioner Janie Robertson questioned how staff would be compensated to work with the Bridge Tender and Shearon said this was just a presentation of ideas.

Marvin later said she was happy with the results. Their next step would be to bring the drawings to staff.

Another agenda item, labeled “Abatement request and financial request for Cast and Cage, Pelican Perch and Rusty Anchor Bait Shop,” concerned the operators of the concessions at the city’s Historic Bridge Street Pier.

The previous tenant, Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant, had fallen behind on rent following damage to the pier from a June 2012 tropical storm. The city eventually negotiated a payoff to end the lease in 2013.

The Cast and Cage restaurant has been open only six months, since February, and already there are problems.

Concessionaire Roland Pena referred commissioners to remarks he made to the pier team committee at its meeting the previous day, that his problems are not related to a normal off-season lull, but that the pier repairs are putting off his customers. Pena said that as soon as the restaurant doors open, indoor diners are bombarded with noise and fumes.

As to the bait shop, he said the few customers who venture out to fish wind up requesting a refund.

But Vosburgh responded that she’s heard complaints from people that the bait shop is “never” open, that no one is there.

Pena responded that restaurant staff have access to the bait shop when the operator is absent.

The mayor suggested the commission withhold their questions until after Pena spoke, and requested the Reader’s Digest version of his presentation.

Pena obliged, saying, “We’re requesting 100 percent abatement.”

Aside from a low whistle from someone in the gallery, Pena’s statement was greeted with silence.

He continued by reading from his lease regarding a payment reduction or abatement during pier construction.

Pena said he also was requesting a 35 percent rent abatement for February-July, before construction began. He said required signage was not posted and, since December 2013, the city website was not updated to remove the previous tenant. He said it was updated June 20.

At this point, “you can’t even get on the (web) page,” he said.

He said the traffic roundabout at the entrance to the pier parking lot was overgrown and unsightly and needed attention. He said he was told it’s the responsibility of the Bridge Street merchants group and merchants say it’s up to the city to maintain the roundabout.

Pena asked commissioners to take his issues into consideration.

Straight said he was prepared to approve abatement for the bait shop and Robertson agreed. But Vosburgh held onto her concerns that the bait shop is seldom open.

Tammy Pena, who stood with her husband during his presentation, responded that there is a (bait) shortage.

Shearon asked if it was the Penas’ intention to close the bait shop, and Roland Pena said they have to temporarily close the doors.

Shearon asked for the motion, but Clarke said the lease is for all three places. An abatement couldn’t be separated for the three operations.

But Shearon said somewhere along the line the entities had been split.

Straight motioned that the bait shop rent be abated, but it failed for lack of a second.

Shearon called for a break so that staff could check availability on the calendar for a work session.

On reconvening, Shearon suggested a work session on the pier lease at 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.

Vosburgh said, “They knew when they took over the businesses that the pier was going down.”

Clarke noted he lacks the final pier lease, saying commissioners need that to go by at the workshop.

Straight suggested they would need city attorney Ricinda Perry’s help at the workshop, but Perry said she was unavailable.

Alternate dates were suggested but Perry again was not available. She offered to provide a worksheet.

A motion by Clarke to meet Aug. 28 or soon thereafter was unanimously approved.

 

2 Responses to BB pier tenants cite problems, seek rent relief

  1. Kelly Downey says:

    Hopefully at the work session, someone can suggest that Rick Gatehouse, whom was re-appointed to manage the city website, contribute to the abatement fund

  2. BB Family says:

    @Kelly: In total agreement. The city IT and website is an embarrassment. I know everybody likes Ric (so do I), but seriously they need better help.

    As for the abatement, the owners got in over their head. I have tried to use the bait shop and had to go inside to find someone to go out. Problem is they had no bait. There is no “bait shortage”, because a short drive over the bridge brings you to the normal haunts where you can get everything from shiners to shrimp for pennies each. The only “shortage” is an unwillingness to sell it.

    Seriously, I went to the bait shop a few weeks back and found them saying they literally had “nothing”.

    Cut a few bucks from the lease for the signage issues (the city screwed that up) and then wait for the eventual eviction. Maybe next time the city can reduce the rent to a more realistic level and get a decent chance of collecting long-term rents.

    The pier is not a high-traffic area. The people who go there are broken into three categories: curious tourists who look once and walk away; poor inland fishermen who are not buying anything; and homeless people who are looking for things to steal, places to hang out, and bathrooms to mess up.

    The city does not have a prime property, but yet they expect prime fees. No surprise when businesses fail.

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