Jannus Landing interests to new manager: Rev it up, soon

Workers on Tuesday examine an area that will be a nightclub at Jannus Landing. City Council member Karl Nurse said the city “avoided a bullet” when Jeff Knight stepped in as the new minority owner.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Workers on Tuesday examine an area that will be a nightclub at Jannus Landing. City Council member Karl Nurse said the city “avoided a bullet” when Jeff Knight stepped in as the new minority owner.

ST. PETERSBURG

When the music stopped playing at Jannus Landing, business on the block felt the silence. The drink glasses clink less often. Registers ca-ching less and less. The bar stools and dining rooms and balconies and sidewalks are lonely.

The businesses wait. All eyes are set toward the future, sometime next spring, when Jeff Knight, the new minority owner of Jannus Landing and the mastermind of its next chapter, will put on his first show in a revamped courtyard.

Message to Knight from the block: You cannot book this next act soon enough.

"It was already slow. It slowed down even more once they closed that down," said Greg Philpot, 45, manager of Central Cigars.

In fact, the last few years under former Jannus minority owner and manager Jack C. Bodziak have been floundering ones, these business owners say. On good concert nights, the cook at Joey Brooklyn's Famous Pizza stocked extra dough for as many as 100 pies. Now his average is 30. The many bars ran drink specials, the restaurants stayed open late and the tattoo parlor, Frankie D, offered band logo body art.

This year, things went swiftly downhill around the venue, which has hosted bands big and small since 1984. With the economy already teetering, Bodziak's legal travails emerged to make things worse.

In May, Bodziak, 37, was charged with grand theft by state investigators, who said he owed $250,000 in sales taxes. Facing 30 years in prison on those charges, Bodziak has said he is cooperating with the state. In July, he was sued for nonpayment of $160,000 in back rent by Tony Amico, the majority owner of Jannus Landing, which includes Detroit Liquors and Fine Wines, the Tamiami Bar, Pelican Pub, Garden Restaurant and Lobby bar. An October settlement, followed by the sale, ended the case.

Just this month, Knight, 47, who runs Knight Enterprises, a Clearwater cable and telecommunications company, closed on a deal in which he became minority owner with Treasure Island businessman Bill Edwards, 64. Knight will run the day-to-day operations.

"This guy, to me, he's like President Obama," said Michael Brennan, 61, co-owner of Tangelo's Grille at 226 First Ave. N for 23 years. "He just stepped in here, like, boom! and came into all this mess."

The last few years saw fewer bands perform. Those that did play were less well known. At the same time, the venue's overall appearance began to suffer.

Adam Nibert, incoming president of the Hotel Detroit Condominium Association, remembers the last concert, when the Insane Clown Posse performed in October.

For days afterward, "There was a lake of soda in the courtyard until it dried up on its own," Nibert said. "It kind of looked like the Little Rascals concert venue. Hopefully the new Jannus is going to be run well."

Some point to other reasons besides Bodziak's troubles for the block's downfall.

"I think there has been a shift," said Emmanuel Roux, who operated the Garden Restaurant at 217 Central Ave. for 15 years before recently selling.

Central Avenue is no longer the city's main drag, said Roux. Now it's Beach Drive. The city under Mayor Rick Baker has focused on large developments at the expense of nurturing a vibrant downtown, said Roux, who added, "I think that was a fundamental mistake."

City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents the area, agreed with Roux. He said Jannus Landing should be counted with the Pier and BayWalk as downtown's major draws.

Major destinations like Tropicana Field and the Mahaffey Theatre aside, the city has been more quick to promote the Saturday Morning Market and events at Vinoy and Williams parks, Nurse said.

"I think we clearly could have done more, and I think some of it is sort of a cultural gap," said Nurse. "Any time you have something aimed at people in their 20s, those of us in our 50s are going to struggle to get it."

Nurse said the city "avoided a bullet" when Knight stepped in to purchase the venue. "I don't think we really understood just how many people this drew downtown and what a big deal it was."

The city has never done a study of Jannus Landing's economic impact, said Dave Goodwin, the city's economic development director. Instead, the city has viewed downtown as a whole, said Goodwin, focusing on improving parking and addressing the panhandling problem.

Others think things are improving, and are investing, too.

Among the businesses being revamped is the old Bishop Hotel, which was recently bought by Dean Marshlack, 25, the son of Treasure Island businessman David Marshlack. The duo pumped $500,000 into the historic building at 260 First Ave. N. The Marshlacks unveiled the redesigned Bishop Lounge last week, a multilevel upscale dance hall and party space with balconies above the Bishop Tavern.

Marshlack and Knight are old friends.

"We are complementing each other," he said.

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

Jannus Landing interests to new manager: Rev it up, soon 12/26/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 3:30am]

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