CLEARWATER — Frank Chivas is known for his restaurants such as Rumba and the Island Way Grill. He has been recognized for his charity work on behalf of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy and the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. He's a board member of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and is overseeing the construction work going on there.
Tonight, Chivas is poised to strike a deal with the city to transform the nearly 60-year-old city-owned Clearwater Beach Marina into a new dining location.
Chivas would invest $2.5 million to open a new restaurant that would take up much of the marina building. Called the Marina Cantina, it would occupy the entire second floor, some of the first floor and a rooftop patio. Chivas would also restore the building to its original 1953 design, which resembled a tugboat.
The Clearwater City Council will vote on the deal tonight. Clearwater would charge Chivas below-market lease rates for 12 years in exchange for his sizable investment in a piece of public property.
Tonight's vote will probably go Chivas' way. Council members expressed enthusiastic support for the plan after they studied a 21-page lease agreement at a work session Tuesday.
"It's exciting to see an entrepreneur who knows how to run an operation running this operation," said Vice Mayor Paul Gibson. "It's going to be a flagship for this marina."
"It's a fantastic design," said council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito.
The beach marina has seen better days. A section of the ground floor has been boarded up with plywood since a U.S. post office there closed earlier this year.
Chivas had long been planning to open a small cantina and tiki bar at the marina, but his plans grew as more vacant space became available in the building overlooking boat docks.
"He wants to take over the entire second floor, the rooftop, the cupola," said Clearwater harbormaster Bill Morris. "None of this would have been possible a year ago had the post office not vacated the premises."
On the ground floor, the existing barbershop, ice cream shop, Pirates Pantry convenience store and ReMax real estate office would stay where they are. So would the small Marina Restaurant, which is open for breakfast and lunch.
A gift shop will close once its lease expires Jan. 1. The marina offices will be moved from the second floor to the first.
Chivas plans to take up the second floor and also open up the rooftop for business, surrounding its edge with a railing and filling the space with umbrella tables.
"He's right now looking at the best location to put in a three-story elevator," Morris said. "We've never rented patio space or the rooftop before."
Chivas, who also owns the Salt Rock Grill and Marlin Darlin' restaurants on the Pinellas beaches south of Clearwater, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
Morris said the redesign of the marina building has gotten a positive reception from beach residents, many of whom have fought against heavy redevelopment at the marina.
Construction costs would be about $1.3 million, and the project's total cost would be about $2.5 million. Marina Cantina would take up nearly 9,300 square feet of interior space and 11,200 square feet of outdoor patio.
The City Council is being asked to approve a five-year lease for the restaurant, with options to renew every five years.
Rent for the interior space would be $9 a square foot for seven years, then $17.50 a square foot for another five years. After that, it would be $20 a square foot, which is the current market rate, Morris said. On the rooftop patio, the city would get an 8 percent share of alcohol sales.
"The rates we're working with are designed to allow Mr. Chivas to recover his significant capital investment in the building," Morris said.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.