RIVIERA BEACH — Barely two weeks into the job and Ed Legue is already putting out fires at the municipal marina.
Legue, who became marina director June 16, is beating back the buzz that tenants are going to be kicked out of the marina to make way for the city's waterfront redevelopment plan.
A week ago, the city council voted unanimously to solicit developers to revamp the aging marina and the surrounding 10 acres of city-owned property. Missing from the proposal was the Tiki Waterfront Sea Grill, a fixture at the marina since 2003.
The council agreed to remove the Tiki from the deal, while they renegotiate a separate contract with the popular restaurant frequented by politicians. The contract is slated to come before the council at its July 16 regular meeting.
By removing the Tiki, critics charge the restaurant is getting preferential treatment because of its political ties. Councilwoman Dawn Pardo, who announced her council candidacy at the Tiki, has been the focus of recent criticism.
Pardo, the council's vice chair, responded to her detractors in an e-mail last week.
"I purposely removed the Tiki from the RFP (request for proposals) document because I want to be certain that the Tiki pays its fair share to the City of Riviera Beach," Pardo wrote.
She also responded to charges that the Tiki was getting special treatment, while the tenants were going to be left to fend for themselves.
"The language in the (proposal) makes certain that the proposer does not come in and clean house," Pardo said. "We will make sure the live-aboards and commercial lessees are treated fairly, and given ample time should they need to be temporarily relocated because of the redevelopment of the marina."
Pardo's response is also in light of criticism that the city is losing money on the current Tiki lease, which lapsed in December. While the restaurant has upped its earnings, the city only receives $2,637 in rent, plus $800 in utilities.
In the new lease, the city will raise the rent to $6,000 a month and charge $5,000 a month in utilities. Tiki officials agree with the monthly rent increase, but only want to pay an additional $10,000 annually for utilities.
On June 25, city building officials notified Tiki owner Bob Gregory that his outdoor deck and bandshell were built without a permit. Gregory must submit a site plan and pay a fee in order to receive a proper permit.
City officials are also aware that state auditors will be watching the Tiki deal. In 2006, a state audit raised questions about the city's billing practice to the Tiki, including its rental of dock space.
In another instance, the city overcharged the Tiki for rent and undercharged the restaurant for utilities and slip fees, according to state auditors.
Auditors also found that the Tiki's monthly rent was reduced to pay for $1,042 in city-sponsored lunches at the restaurant. There's no provision in the Tiki's lease allowing the city to lower rent in exchange for food and beverages, auditors concluded.
The city has been trying to redevelop its downtown waterfront since 1982. A series of plans failed because the council couldn't reach agreements with developers.
In 2005, the council picked Viking Inlet Harbor Properties to redevelop 400 acres along the Intracostal Waterway. The plan called for a hotel, aquarium, shops, restaurants and condos.
But it was quashed when state lawmakers made it illegal for governments to use eminent domain to take private land and give to developers. The city's plan relied on condemning land in order for Viking to redevelop the 400 acres.
Viking plans to bid on the marina proposal. The New Jersey yacht maker already owns some $50 million worth of land in the redevelopment area.
Meanwhile, the lot has fallen to Legue to reassure the 105 wet-slip tenants that the city isn't going to give them the boot, at least without proper of notification. All of them have month-to-month leases with the city.
Legue has written a letter that will go to each of the tenants, explaining their rights and the city's process in pursuing the redevelopment of the marina.
According to the proposal, the council plans to pick the developer on Sept. 9 and hopes to have a signed contract detailing the development by Nov. 12. Developers must come up with a plan to lease the marina, overhaul Bicentennial Park and redo Spanish Courts, a former motel sitting on prime land just north of the Port of Palm Beach on Broadway.
In Legue's letter going to the tenants, he estimates it will take until June 2009 before any site plans are finalized. Then, their developer will have to pursue permits, which could take another few months.
"What I can say with confidence. . . is that the ownership of the marina will remain with the city," Legue wrote in a letter that is expected to reach tenants next week. "This marina will remain open for public access and open for commercial enterprises."
CRA executive director Floyd Johnson, whose office is overseeing the process, reiterated Legue's pledge to tenants.
"We certainly don't want to be driving away tenants that are going to be necessary for a successful redevelopment," Johnson said. "We will make every effort to dispel those myths."
Johnson also said that the tenants must prepare for some period of relocation while the marina is reconstructed. However, the council and the developer will work on a time frame that's fair to the tenants, he said.
Despite the city's promise, the tenants are a tough sell. They've been waiting for years for the city to upgrade the marina.
This latest plan comes a year after tenants and the city battled over requiring $1 million in insurance for boat owners. The demand forced some to leave because their boats were too old to be insured and coverage was costly.
Andrew Foss was one of the boat owners who stayed. Foss lives aboard his boat and was active in helping the tenants reach a settlement with the city which reduced the insurance requirement to $500,000.
He's concerned that once again the tenants are going to be forced out, when few public marinas allow live-a boards. Foss also said the uncertainty also comes when boat owners are spending money to renew their insurance policies.
"People think we're going to get the short end of the stick," Foss said. "We've got to get people together so we can do some fact finding."