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Bids on restaurant for Albert Whitted Airport may be down to one

The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge is Parkshore Grill owner Steve Westphal’s vision for a new restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport.

Kenneth Poley Interiors

The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge is Parkshore Grill owner Steve Westphal’s vision for a new restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport.

ST. PETERSBURG — Albert Whitted Airport may finally get a new restaurant.

The city was reviewing proposals from two local restaurateurs to operate in the space on the terminal's second floor. Now, however, one has said he will withdraw his bid.

Both Parkshore Grill owner Steve Westphal and the Undertow Beach Bar owner Paul Nicklaus submitted bids to rent the 5,000-square-foot space, which has sat empty since the terminal opened in 2007.

Last week, however, Nicklaus said he had decided to withdraw.

Officials plan to bring the issue to City Council in August.

Three proposals were submitted for the week-long solicitation period that started June 19.

A proposal from John Denapoli was not considered because of its lack of details and request for city funding, said Bruce Grimes, the city's real estate management director.

The city had put out a bid request in February, after negotiations with Arigato Steak House owner Dale DeBello ended when he citing concerns over the economy and the failed Tampa Bay Rays' proposal to build a waterfront stadium.

In the February call for bids, Nicklaus applied an hour after the bidding closed at 3 p.m., and the city considered it an unanswered call.

"I really don't like that the city likes to play games," he said. "I have no reason to move forward."

Nicklaus said the city told him in February to continue his plans despite missing the deadline. Then bidding was reopened in June.

Nicklaus would just "like to see a restaurant go in my little airport," he said. His father flew out of the downtown airport and he now has a plane there.

Grimes said he was surprised by Nicklaus's decision.

"We were looking forward to working with both," Grimes said. "Competition is always good."

Not so, Nicklaus said.

"If there are two players, the city is not going to play fair," he said.

Westphal said he hopes that he can bring his vision, the Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge, to the downtown community.

"We'd like to preserve the heritage of Albert Whitted Airport," said the self-described Air Force brat. "This property is what I would look on as my community project."

The Hangar would boast contemporary affordable American fare with buffet options for breakfast and lunch. Dinner offerings would include steak tartare, truffle cauliflower macaroni and cheese and grilled salmon and cobia. Prices would range from $12 to the mid-$20s.

Nicklaus also complained about the proposed rent structure in the original request, which called for a 6 percent profit sharing with the city.

No restaurant could survive under such a "cancerous" agreement, he said.

Jack Tunstill, chair of the airport's advisory committee, said he was saddened to hear that Nicklaus pulled out, but hoped the city would move forward. "We've wasted enough time in this process," he said. "We lost $50,000 a year that the airport could have for paying the light bills, for anything."

The airport covers its basic expenses, but the city is still paying for capital improvements from 1990, said airport manager Rich Lezniak.

Westphal said he hopes to open by next April.

Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or jdalexander@sptimes.com.

Bids on restaurant for Albert Whitted Airport may be down to one 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 4:30am]
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