New marina restaurant expected to open by late summer
CLEARWATER BEACH — Construction work began in earnest this month on the second floor of the Clearwater Beach Marina building.
Restaurateur and entrepreneur Frank Chivas of Baystar Restaurant Group will pour an estimated $1.4 million into restoring and renovating the city marina, transforming much of the space into the Marina Cantina Tequila Bar and Grille, his seventh restaurant in Pinellas County.
“It's like peeling an onion,” Chivas said of his latest project, an undertaking he began more than two years ago.
Peeling the onion is not only exposing the original beauty of the 60-year-old building, he acknowledged, but also bringing it into compliance with federal, state and local building codes prompted by Hurricane Andrew, a category five storm that flattened Homestead and Florida City in 1992.
The stringent codes for new construction and renovations instituted since that storm include installing impact-resistant glass to withstand high velocity hits from wind-borne debris and conducting tougher inspections to prevent the kind of shoddy construction that became apparent after the hurricane.
Moreover, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 50 percent rule, the cost of the project cannot exceed 50 percent or more of the value of the building within a designated timeframe. If it does, FEMA requires the building be elevated, a cost prohibitive stipulation that would likely render the project unfeasible.
A 2011 real estate appraisal and structural analysis valued the marina building at $3.44 million.
Restoring the marina's vintage look
“It's going well,” Chivas said of the project, adding, “We intend to bring back her youthful look.”
The landmark's outer surface will be returned to its 1950s vintage nautical architectural look, reminiscent of a steamboat in dry dock, with trademark porthole windows, wedding cake-stacked balconies and a smokestack on each end of the building. That style emerged in the 1930s and is attributed to South Beach's art deco district in Miami Beach.
Five years ago, residents were up in arms when a developer approached Clearwater officials wanting to demolish the “old-Florida” landmark to make way for a hotel or condos. Thanks in large part to marina allies, local business interests and now this investment, the beach marina has caught a second wind.
It needed a strong and steady gust of support, “someone like Frank,” according to Bill Morris, city marine and aviation director.
“He has gone out of his way to bring it back to its vintage look. It will be a centerpiece of the city,” as it was decades ago, Morris said.
“He is ripping through (the building) layer by layer starting with the walls and moving inward to the electrical wiring and plumbing. He's finding conduits that have been tucked away in a corner or buried under layers of ceiling tiles and walls for many years.”
Last week, a construction crew spent several days cutting through the ceiling of the Jolly Roger Ice Cream & Coffee Shop and a portion of the Harbor Barber and Beauty Salon to install new plumbing. The ice cream shop had to close for a few days.
“We're working diligently with our neighbors to minimize impact on their businesses,” Chivas said.
A project years in the making
Chivas proposed an indoor-outdoor restaurant to city leaders several years ago. In 2011, he entered into a lease agreement, expanded and amended in 2012, that incorporates about 20,500 square feet of the marina building, including parts of the first floor, the entire second floor and rooftop area, and the third floor rooftop and its cupola.
According to city records, the term of the five-year lease includes an option to renew for five additional five-year terms. Rent is currently $6,678 per month, with future rate increases proposed in five year and 8 percent of alcohol sales that are expected to be more than $10,000 once the restaurant opens.
The first phase got underway in 2012 and involved a $30,000 renovation and the relocation of the harbormaster's office from the second to the first floor, space formerly occupied by a nautical gift shop.
According to city reports, Chivas underwrote the cost of relocating the harbormaster's office. He also will incur the costs associated with the exterior makeover, costs that would have been an expense of the city.
In return, the agreement calls for a reduced rental rate for the first 12 years to help Chivas recoup some of those expenses.
Also last year, Chivas renovated the first floor space previously occupied by the U.S. Postal Service in an agreement with RE/MAX Action First owner Steven Hasley, who moved his real estate operation and office from the Pelican Walk retail complex on Mandalay Avenue.
For the first time in decades, the marina is at full tenant-capacity. While the first floor historically has been leased out successfully, the majority of the second floor had been vacant for many years. The third floor had never been rented nor even considered as a rental option until Chivas' proposal.
Chivas plans to open his new restaurant by Labor Day, or “sooner would be even better.”