ST. PETERSBURG — New life at the downtown entertainment venue Jannus Landing may mean the end of another.
Tony Amico, the majority owner of Jannus Landing, confirmed Tuesday the downtown landmark is being renovated and that appears to be pushing out the Garden, one of downtown's oldest restaurants.
"We have new tenants at Jannus Landing in all the venues there. They are remodeling everything," Amico said.
As part of this housecleaning, Amico exercised a buyout clause in the lease of the Garden, 217 Central Ave., co-owned by Emmanuel Roux and Franck Bouvard since 1993. The duo also owned downtown's Redwoods for a time.
Sixteen years is a long run for a restaurant in St. Petersburg, the historic building itself dating to 1890, with major additions made in 1922 and 1947. The Garden is said to be the longest continuously operating jazz club in the area, thanks in large measure to local legend Buster Cooper, former trombonist with the Duke Ellington band.
When it opened in 1993, "The Garden, A Mediterranean Bistro" was considered a bellwether sign of downtown St. Petersburg's renaissance. These days the openings, closures, concept changes and chef moves are so fast and furious it's difficult to assess the restaurant scene's overall health.
John C. "Jack" Bodziak's troubled tenure as operator of Jannus Landing contributed to the Garden's declining business this past year, Roux said.
"That's what upset the apple cart. Things that have happened at Jannus created problems," Roux said. "We're not the victims, but sometimes you get caught in a storm and tossed around."
Just a few doors down from Jannus Landing, the folks at Mastry's Bar waxed nostalgic about the Garden, even as they said they looked forward to seeing a new and improved Jannus Landing complex.
"I think that in the future, it's going to rebuild, and it's going to be better than ever," said Rick Mastry, co-owner of the bar. "The place (Jannus) was a gold mine before, and even though it was mismanaged, lots and lots of people made money on it. I think in the long run it'll be better."
Mastry's bartender Patricia Warren, who grew up six blocks from the landmark bar, said she is sad to see the Garden going, but "we'll be glad to see something new. Anything that brings business back on the block is good for us."
Roux said he and Bouvard had been trying to find someone to take over the business at the Garden, but the lease length — just through 2013 — was too short to entice a buyer. The restaurant's last day will be Dec. 12.
Amico and Roux met Tuesday afternoon to negotiate final terms of the buyout.
"We'd been running out of steam for a while," Roux said. Still, Roux has plans for new ventures, selling the Garden's signature flourless chocolate cakes online and marketing a line of lamps that he has created.
Although the Garden's demise was not planned, Roux said, ruefully, "I'll tell you, I'm not going to miss going to bed at 3 a.m. every day."
Landlord Amico has not revealed the future of the historic Garden space.
Times correspondent Sheila Mullane Estrada contributed to this report. Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining.