Political cryonics is alive and well in Flagler Beach: The proposed two-story lifeguard tower the city commission killed two weeks ago out of fear that it might obstruct a deal with a prospective new owner for the Pier Restaurant is back from the dead. The Pier Restaurant deal, however, is mostly in the grave, in part—but not at all exclusively—because of the tower.
With Commissioner Jane Mealy reversing her opposition and providing the swing vote in favor of the $147,000 guard tower, the project was back in the works as early as 7:15 Friday morning (Feb. 25), when Acting City Manager Bruce Campbell “put the wheels in motion to resume construction.” You can expect to see the tower there by the end of March. Mealy said she reversed her vote when a presentation by the city’s head of the lifeguard program and Tom Gillen, the city’s recreation director, showed her the tower would have a negligible effect on the restaurant’s ocean views.
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Gillen described the tower as “the most efficient way we could protect the beach and maintain that margin of safety that we feel is crucial.” He also has to contend with a lifeguard staff reduced by 20 percent. He could deal with that as long as the tower’s extra set of eyes were in place.
“I don’t think it needs to be either the restaurant or the tower. I think they can both coexist,” Gillen said. The view needn’t be destroyed. Gillen kept hearing that “a lot” of the view would be ruined. But there was no hard evidence. He sought it out. “We went in the restaurant,” Gillen said, “and we did put an obstacle exactly where the eastern end of the tower would be. And we started walking toward the window. It wasn’t until we got 12 feet to the window that we could actually see the tower. It does obstruct the view from the southward-basing window. It doesn’t have any effect on the northward facing window. The three windows similar to these windows here that are facing east, it really didn’t have any effect unless you got close to the window and tried to look to the south.”
The tower being 22 feet out from the building “is going to be such a small obstruction of the view,” Gillen said, “to us it’s a no brainer. We just didn’t think it would be an issue.”
“They convinced me that it wasn’t blocking as much of the view as Ray was saying it was,” Mealy said, referring to Ray Barshay, who’s been negotiating with commissioners and their attorney for months to secure a long-term lease for the Pier Restaurant. Once the commission voted 3-2 to restore the tower project, Barshay’s mood darkened. It did not get better when he held yet another round of open negotiations with the commission Thursday evening.
That round lasted two hours and left the two sides further apart than they’d been previously as several deal-breakers emerged.
The city is setting the base rent at $3,000 a month. Barshay wants it lower. The city is not budging, considering the rent very reasonable. The city, following the recommendation of a restaurant consultant who produced a plan of action for commissioners, is asking for 3 percent of gross receipts above $1 million, as supplemental income. It’s a common provision in such leases. Barshay doesn’t want to go above 2 percent. And of course Barshay didn’t want the lifeguard tower on the south side of the restaurant. But that project is going ahead.
There are additional unresolved issues, including the ownership of the bait and tackle shop, which the city wants whoever runs the Pier Restaurant to run as well. That’s how it is in the existing lease, although the bait and tackle shop has been virtually closed and the city is carrying those costs for now. And it’s still not clear who would build a deck for outside dining, though that had more to do with details than deal-breaking figures.
“I think somehow I need to leave here knowing that we’re doing something,” Barshay said at the end of the round, “and if you can’t give me that answer, that’s a kind of an answer too, because we’ve gone on with it quite awhile.” He wanted a breakthrough. Commissioner Vath’s absence made that difficult: the vote on the bait shop was 2-2. “This is real difficult. I hope everybody in the audience and out in the community knows this is real difficult for you guys and me,” he told commissioners. “I’ll go on record with that. It’s not a simple process. So I don’t know what to say.”
And Barshay summed it up: “We’re sort of at a deadlock, impasse, unless I come back and say let’s do something.”
That’s where matters stand. “The ball is in Barshay’s court,” Campbell said. “It’s up to Barshay to come forward with his ideas if they’re different than what’s in the lease. If they’re not then it’s not going to move forward.”
Commissioners are more dispirited than hopeful. Commissioner Joy McGrew, whose term ends in less than two weeks, had hoped—like others—that Barshay’s ownership would provide a catalyst for more business activity. “I just felt like he was ready to present that and he was the one who was able to do it,” McGrew said.
That looks less likely. Should the deal not go through the commission will have to advertise a request for proposal and go through the whole process again. Whether it does so in open session, negotiating with the prospective owner at the table, with all five commissioners, is in question. “It’s not been some of our finer moments but we’ve gotten through it and hopefully we’ll be able to handle it more it more professionally in the future,” McGrew said, before remembering her term was up. “They, not we: they.”