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Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food restaurant owner violating deal with city

ST. PETERSBURG — The owner of Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food is refusing to give the city information on the restaurant's sales as required by his contract to occupy the city-owned Manhattan Casino.

The information is needed to calculate whether the nonprofit Urban Development Solutions, headed by Larry Newsome, owes the city more than the $3,000 monthly base rent.

Newsome must pay the city 5 percent of monthly sales above $83,333.

The tax forms are exempt from public disclosure when sent to the state Department of Revenue. However, Newsome agreed to give the city a copy of the form along with his monthly rent.

Newsome has been paying his base rent, but a city official said he must also submit the form.

"We're continuing to follow up on that," said Bruce Grimes, the city's real estate director. "Our ultimate verification is to audit his records."

Newsome did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Tampa Bay Times requested Sylvia's rent records on Jan. 22. At that time, city officials already had been prodding UDS to file the required form and pay the additional percentage rent if applicable.

Mike Psarakis, a city real estate coordinator, sent UDS the contract showing what must be filed, email records show.

"We expect to send it over with payment this week," UDS vice president Tamara Felton-Howard replied on Jan. 22.

On Jan. 29, UDS filed November's tax form listing $122,708 in sales. The city also received an extra $1,969 based on $39,375 in sales, records show.

To comply with a public record request, the city provided the tax form to the Times, but said UDS was refusing to submit December's form.

"Until we get some legal opinion on this information going to the St. Petersburg Times (Tampa Bay Times), we will only send you the percentage rent without the DR-15," CFO Priscilla Williams wrote Thursday.

"We feel that this is sensitive and confidential information and the St. Petersburg Times has no rights to our monthly sales reports. I will mail the December percentage rent to your office today."

Psarakis replied the next day to the chief financial officer.

"We can find no statutory exemption to Ch. 119 Florida Statutes for the DR15 in the city's possession," he wrote. "If you can point to a statutory exemption that you think we missed, we will review it."

Sylvia's opened Nov. 9 and created a buzz in Midtown.

City leaders hailed the restaurant as a possible spark to ignite more development in the city's poorest area. Taxpayers have spent $3.1 million on renovations to the Manhattan Casino since 2005. Sylvia's occupies the building's first floor and a banquet hall occupies the second.

Built in 1925 along 22nd Street S, the casino stands as a symbol to the city's segregated past and the emotional connection many residents have with it. Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Fats Domino all played there before it closed in 1966. It sat vacant until Sylvia's opened.

Reviews on the restaurant have been mixed.

Newsome's partners include prominent members of the black community: the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr., pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church; state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; and Dr. Frederic Guerrier, known for organizing medical missions to Haiti.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente.

Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food restaurant owner violating deal with city 02/04/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 12:10am]
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