Miami waterfront eateries must ante up more
By Lauren Redding
Although a City of Miami committee has selected the likely tenants for two Coconut Grove waterfront properties, each candidate must cough up thousands of dollars more than originally proposed to secure the city's prime real estate.
Six groups have been vying for the properties since the city requested proposals in April. One location includes Grove Key Marina and well-established restaurant Scotty's Landing; the other currently holds the waterfront Chart House Restaurant.
Friday, a five-member committee — comprised of city officials and development professionals — offered recommendations to City Manager Johnny Martinez on who should get the leases.
But in their quest to increase the city's future revenue from both locations, committee members recommended Mr. Martinez negotiate much higher base rents than the applicants originally proposed.
After a nearly two-hour discussion of five proposals, the committee approved the group David One LLC to take over the marina-restaurant property at 3385 Pan American Drive. David One representatives — including Matt Johnson of Monty's South Beach and Jimmy Flanigan of the Flanigan's restaurant chain — proposed transforming Scotty's Landing into a tiki hut restaurant. They plan to use the 4.5 acres for the marina/boatyard as a boating store, expanded marina and public park.
The minimum base rent the city requested was $500,000 a year. The group proposed $720,000, but the committee wasn't satisfied: it approved moving forward with contracting this group, as long as the tenants agree to pay $840,000 a year. Final rent negotiations are underway between Martinez and David One.
Before a lease can be signed, both city commissioners and city voters, in a November referendum, must approve it.
Committee member Henry Torre, director of the city's Public Facilities Department, said he was impressed by the group members' success in the Miami restaurant business. Additionally, he said, the group's pledged $5.5 million to renovate the property would ensure the well-thought-out design was seen through.
"They have an understanding of… what would be a successful casual restaurant," Mr. Torre said during deliberations. "The team is solid from top to bottom. I feel it would provide the city with security going forward."
If David One won't agree to the extra $120,000 a year, the city is to begin negotiations with the second choice, current marina and Scotty's Landing operator Scott Wessel. Although Mr. Wessel had proposed major renovations to the second floor of the current restaurant and pledged to pay about $107,000 more in yearly rent than he currently does, there's still a chance the longtime restaurant owner could have to close up shop.
This fact was not lost on the nearly two dozen supporters who attended last Wednesday's meeting in a show of support for Mr. Wessel, who wasn't present. Wearing green and white tee-shirts reading "Save Scotty's" and "Keep Scott in Scotty's," they had arrived ready for a fight. Many said they were disappointed the city had placed more value on money and not what they say the Coconut Grove community wants.
"Money is everything these days," said Michael O'Hara-Diaz, a long-time patron and supporter of Scotty's. "Everything else — family, community — is out the window. That's what Scotty's is: family. We put together a really good proposal, and it may not have been the highest in rent, but Scotty's offers tradition. There's no tradition in this city anymore."
Several Scotty's supporters said they don't believe Coconut Grove residents would approve a new tenant in Scotty's Landing if it comes to a referendum. Scotty's employee Emily Balarezo said she and others were planning to write to Mr. Martinez about what a community mainstay the restaurant is, in hopes that he will discontinue negotiations with David One.
Only one group submitted a proposal for the Chart House Restaurant, which sits on 1.34 acres at 51 Charthouse Drive. Landry's — the Texas-based company that currently runs the restaurant — has received the OK from the city committee to continue management.
The minimum base rent required under the proposal was $340,000 a year, which is the figure Landry's proposed. However, the committee approved a measure that if Mr. Martinez and Landry's are not successful in negotiating a new base rent between $400,000 and $425,000, the city will terminate any further contract talks and reissue the request for proposals, effectively starting the whole process over again.
According to city records, Chart House paid the city $107,409.25 in rent over 12 months between September 2010 and 2011 under the existing lease.
Landry's also submitted a proposal for the Grove Key Marina/Scotty's Landing property. Committee members, however, said they were disappointed it only offered the minimum base rent of $500,000.
Although the committee highlighted several other positive aspects of the remaining proposals, they eventually agreed David One was the best bet for a high financial return to the city. AAA Marine Group proposed converting one of the property's airplane hangars into a collection of bars and cafés. Grove Marinas Ventures offered to build a Garcia's Seafood restaurant and promised the city its greatest return, $800,000.
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