Clearwater may pay settlement to end lawsuit, get Pickles Plus Too deli out of Harborview Center

Patrons gather at Pickles Plus Too Deli at Clearwater’s Harborview Center in 2009. The city has long wanted to tear down the center, where Pickles opened in 1998 and has been the only tenant since 2009.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2009)

Patrons gather at Pickles Plus Too Deli at Clearwater’s Harborview Center in 2009. The city has long wanted to tear down the center, where Pickles opened in 1998 and has been the only tenant since 2009.

CLEARWATER — How's this for a pricey pickle?

The city could pay Pickles Plus Too $668,000 to settle the downtown deli's lawsuit and evict it from the Harborview Center.

Funded by city tax reserves, the settlement would end a lawsuit by the deli, which claims that city officials bullied the business in an attempt to shoo it away.

Officials have long sought to demolish the mostly vacant Harborview convention hall and stop spending the maintenance costs of $60,000 a year. But Pickles' lease in the building doesn't end for another decade.

The City Council will vote on the settlement after a public hearing Thursday. If approved, the deli must move by March 1 or face a fine of $1,000 a day.

"I'm not happy with the cost," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "I wish we'd never had a contract that lasted this long. ... But it's good to get this resolved."

Messages left with deli owners Kim and Joe Benedettini and spokeswoman Lisa Brock were not returned Friday afternoon.

Pickles opened in 1998 on the ground floor of the Harborview Center next to a Stein Mart and the city's trade and banquet space.

The relationship soured in 2009 when the department store left, leaving the tiny sit-down deli the lone tenant of Clearwater's biggest white elephant.

Officials suggested the deli move elsewhere on Cleveland Street, allowing the city to start fresh on the waterfront land next to Coachman Park.

But the Benedettini siblings said any move would send them further from the downtown lunch crowd they had catered to for years. Moving, they added, would cost more than their family business could afford.

Soon after the stalemate, the siblings accused officials of trying to "turn up the heat" to break their lease. They filed a lawsuit saying the city threatened to turn off the water, disrupted business with construction and encouraged local homeless people to squat near their door.

City leaders called the deli's claims of "retribution" crazy. Mediation on the suit began last month, with settlement negotiations lasting several days.

The $668,000 will come from general fund reserves of about $19 million.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Clearwater may pay settlement to end lawsuit, get Pickles Plus Too deli out of Harborview Center 07/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 8:04pm]

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