AM pier tenant ready to forge new lease

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The Anna Maria City Pier restaurant and bait shop were gutted, crushed and hauled away on barges by the city’s demolition contractor, Speeler and Associates, by day’s end July 12. See more, page 3. Islander Courtesy Photo: Anna Maria City

Mutual interest is stirring up prospects for a new Anna Maria City Pier lease with the current tenant.

Mayor Dan Murphy wants to begin formal negotiations on a new deal with pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder as soon as possible. Having held the lease for 18 years, Schoenfelder is hopeful about negotiating a new agreement.

“The city was fine with the lease (when it was drafted in 2000) and I was fine with the lease at that point in time, but over the years — it’s been 15-20 years now — I have my experience with this contract,” Schoenfelder said in a phone interview Dec. 18. “I know a lot of things happen that are not covered by the contract, and other things that are covered by the contract that never had to be. So I think it is a good idea to start with a new lease.”

He said he submitted a list of terms for a new lease to Murphy, but would not comment, wishing not to disclose his strategy before negotiating.

The current lease — which expires December 2020 — covers the pier structure, parking area, restaurant and bait shop for a flat rate payment of $11,900 per month.

The tenant is responsible for paying the property tax, utilities, maintenance and liability insurance, and the city is responsible for paying fire, casualty, wind and flood insurance.

Commissioners Carol Carter, Doug Copeland and Brian Seymour declined to comment on their ideal terms for a new lease. Commissioner Amy Tripp did not respond in time for The Islander deadline.

Commissioner Dale Woodland suggested a term in a call Dec. 18: for the city to be entirely responsible for the pier structure and equipment.

Some other considerations for a new lease include shifts in responsibilities, length of the agreement, the monthly payment amount and the premise the lease covers, such as the parking area.

“I think the city has learned a lot,” Schoenfelder said. “I have learned a lot and the attorneys have learned a lot, so I’m pretty sure the new lease will very much look different from what we have now. And I think that’s a good thing.”

Schoenfelder, who splits his time between Holmes Beach and Germany, began leasing the pier in August 2000, when he signed on for 10 years with two five-year options and a payment of $5,000 per month and periodic increases of $500.

He said he first found the island by chance, during a visit to Longboat Key in 1995, and soon after bought his home in Holmes Beach.

With a new home in the United States, Schoenfelder sought to secure domestic income. He bought the Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive in Anna Maria and leased the city pier, 100 S. Bay Blvd.

“I have enjoyed my time, very much so,” Schoenfelder said. “I have had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people and make friends with many, many people. I think any other German tourist never would have had the chance to know that many people. I really enjoyed it, and I hope to enjoy it again in the future.”

Schoenfelder noted the impact on Pine Avenue businesses of the pier closure in September 2017 and then demolition in July 2018.

“I don’t have any statistic to support the feeling that business is not as good as it was while the city pier was still there, but I think it is almost a natural thing,” he said. “If you are a tourist, a stranger in the area, what do you expect to see? The city pier. Now that it’s not there, the area has lost a magnet.”

The city’s plans for the new pier include changes from the 1911-built historic pier, including the use of concrete pilings as opposed to wood pilings, Ipe wood — Brazilian Walnut that is harder and denser than most woods — for decking rather than marine-grade lumber planks, and solar roof panels to power the restaurant and bait shop.

“At some point, you have to rebuild from the start, from zero, to make sure that this attraction will survive the next 70, 80 or 100 years,” Schoenfelder said. “You have to do that, or at least that’s my point of view. I understand other people might say, ‘Well, I loved the old stuff. This was old Florida, and now this is gone and everything’s new and look at all this concrete.’”

“I totally understand, but, I’m sorry,” he continued. “The storm hit and you could see from how the building looked after the storm that something had to be done. So I personally don’t think it is a bad idea, not at all.”

The mayor, during a meeting earlier this month, asked commissioners to propose their terms for a pier lease by Dec. 31.

The next city commission meeting will be 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

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