St. Petersburg seeks to evict Sylvia's soul food restaurant from Manhattan Casino

The city says $67,000 is owed in rent, late fees and taxes on the space at Manhattan Casino.
Business has tailed off at Sylvia's restaurant, which leases the ground floor of the Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street S. The city poured about $3 million into renovating the building. Times (2013)
Business has tailed off at Sylvia's restaurant, which leases the ground floor of the Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street S. The city poured about $3 million into renovating the building.Times (2013)
Published March 31 2016
Updated March 31 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Sylvia's, the Midtown soul food restaurant that opened to great fanfare in late 2013, has been served something that wasn't on the menu: eviction papers.

The city filed a complaint for possession and damages on March 10. The original eviction date of Dec. 29 had been pushed back after the city agreed to let Larry Newsome, who runs the nonprofit that leased the ground floor of the Manhattan Casino for the restaurant, come up with a viable financial plan.

Newsome told the Tampa Bay Times in March he planned to pay the city the $67,0000 he owed in rent, late fees and property taxes by the end of the month.

As of Wednesday, Newsome hadn't paid a dime, said Heather K. Judd, assistant city attorney.

Newsome's attorney missed a March 25 deadline to respond to the city's lawsuit, but Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton hasn't yet ruled if she will consider a subsequent response filed three days later.

The city's suit claims that since February 2012, Newsome hasn't paid $3,000 in rent for 10 of the last 12 months. The city is asking for $32,100 in unpaid rent.

Newsome's tardy response denies the city's claims, contests the amount the city says it is owed and asserts that Newsome wasn't given proper notice of the lawsuit.

His attorney, Karmika Rubin, didn't return a phone call seeking comment. Rubin, a former office administrator for Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, was compelled in 2010 to testify by a Hernando judge in an investigation by the Ohio attorney general into a bogus Navy veterans charity run by federal fugitive John Donald Cody, a.k.a. Bobby Thompson.

In an unrelated case, Rubin was suspended by Florida's Supreme Court in 2013 for failing to respond to an investigation by the state bar association into a complaint that Rubin misappropriated a client's account. The Florida Bar says she's currently a member in good standing.

Newsome also owes at least $69,000 in delinquent sales and use taxes to the state of Florida, according to state Department of Revenue warrants.

The city poured about $3 million into renovating the historic Manhattan Casino building at 642 22nd St. S with the idea that the investment would pay off — with Sylvia's as the prime attraction.

Initially, it did. Long lines of eager diners crowded the restaurant in the first few months, ringing up $122,708 in sales after it opened in November 2013 and $90,462 the following month.

But business has tailed off. The city announced its move toward eviction in the final days of 2015.

The building sits across the street from Commerce Park, a 14-acre parcel that Mayor Rick Kriseman recently announced would house a marine parts business and a motorcycle dealership. That deal also promised 80,000 square-feet of "workforce" housing and retail.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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