Local classics fell, but condos fail to rise

By Pat Beall
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 05, 2007

RIVIERA BEACH The pink walls of the 1960s-era Rutledge Inn, for years the only hotel on Singer Island, fell to bulldozers last year. Owned by three generations of the Crouse family, the hotel was razed to make room for Mirasol Beach of Singer Island.

Mirasol Beach was to be an 18-story condo resplendent with spa, fitness center, library, theater, lounge and billiards. No more. Last week developer Taylor Woodrow Plc pulled the plug on the project.

"I wish we had never sold it," 77-year-old Doris Crouse said after being told of the developer's decision. "It's just like I lost my best friend."

Among the regulars during the Rutledge Inn's happier hours was Jupe Hash. She was disappointed when the hotel was demolished and is disappointed again that it has been shoveled under for nothing.

"It's just dirt now," she said.

Taylor Woodrow hasn't indicated whether it will sell its patch of Singer Island oceanfront, purchased for $17 million. But its decision to suspend construction plans will be felt widely. As an 18-story condo, Mirasol Beach was expected to generate a just under $2 million in taxes. It most recently generated $58,014 as a vacant lot.

Mirasol Beach isn't the first project to level a piece of Old Florida only to be canceled. Two years after the beloved Crab Pot restaurant was shuttered, plans for the 17-story condominium that was to be built in its place went belly up. The site, on Riviera Beach's mainland, is up for sale.

But unlike Taylor Woodrow's unexpected decision to cancel work on Mirasol Beach, the Crab Pot's demise could be seen from 20 years away.

That's how long rumors had swirled that owner Wayne Cordero would sell the wildly popular eatery at the foot of the Singer Island bridge. Inlet Harbor LLC came up with the right price in 2005: $3.07 million, a sweet return on the previous purchase price of $225,000.

Now the asking price for the Crab Pot's empty lot is $5.4 million.

It was the last of seven Crab Pots owned and operated by Cordero to close.

Crab Potters despaired. Massachusetts snowbird James Kresge swore he would not return to Riviera Beach if the Pot was destroyed. (He has.) Jack McGuigan threatened to chain himself to a bar stool. (He didn't.) Then-Riviera Beach City Councilman David Schnyer declared it would be like "losing an old friend." (Schnyer subsequently sold his own Singer Island properties and moved out of state.)

Doris and Ira Crouse, who worked together at the Rutledge with their son and daughter-in-law, might have been the saddest of all. Regulars - many of them also Crab Pot regulars - came to be family. On her last day at the Rutledge, Doris said, "I sat and cried."

At the Crab Pot, die-hard patrons held a besotted wake. Its treasure trove of mounted fish, aging photos and seafaring bric-a-brac independently marched out of the eatery. No one saw any of it leave, not even the giant dolphin and the stuffed alligator head.

The project in its place was in the works. Condo plans were finalized and permits obtained, said architect Steven Siskind of Miami's Siskind/Carlson & Partners Inc., which drew up the blueprints.

Just 10 months after bulldozers rolled over the Pot, the overheated condo market started cooling. At the same time, prices for building materials heated up. "The cost rose about 30 percent" from beginning to end of the design phase, Siskind said.

Barbara Fox, a real estate agent and longtime Crab Pot patron, said, "I understand change." Her office at Marina Grande overlooks the Pot site. "But really, replace it with something. Don't leave it bare."

It was Fox who jokingly suggested that the Pot's fans pool their cash and buy the place before it was razed, and it was Fox who also jokingly - and more recently - asked former owner Cordero if he might not like to rebuy the land and rekindle the restaurant, especially given its built-in clientele. "He said he might want to retire," she reported.

Crab Pot lovers aren't waiting. The second annual Crab Pot reunion is slated for this summer, Hash said - just as soon as they can find a place to hold it.

But there's a bright side to the elimination of the two popular locations.

"I guess we are all saving money staying home," Hash said. "We don't have anyplace to go."