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Lighted Tree's owners will give up

(ran S E edition)

It's lights out at the Lighted Tree for owners Kim Costanza and Rosemary Dempsey, who have put the popular and troubled St. Pete Beach bar, restaurant and guest house on the market.

The Tree will be open only on Sundays to preserve the liquor license for whoever buys the club, but the asking price is $750,000.

"It was a business thing," Costanza said. "We bought Bedrox and we couldn't afford to operate both." Bedrox, at 8000 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island, was once the Penguin Club, a beach landmark. It encompasses 12,000 square feet, three times the footage of the Lighted Tree.

"The parking is free here, we can serve liquor on the beach, and we own the property to the water," she said.

Costanza and Dempsey, who is national action vice president of the National Organization for Women, have owned the Lighted Tree, at 109 Eighth Ave., since 1989. In the Bedrox venture, they have two other partners, Anne Catherine Wendricks and Linda Carole Woody.

Although Costanza says the new opportunity was what prompted the move, she acknowledges she won't miss St. Pete Beach officials. The Lighted Tree has catered mostly to a gay and lesbian clientele, which was not welcome in some circles at the beach. Soon after Costanza and Dempsey bought the establishment, an arson fire destroyed the bar, and anti-gay bias was suspected. The owners were troubled by continual reports of ordinance violations during reconstruction.

Costanza also thinks the fact that the Tree has been cited more than a dozen times under a noise ordinance constitutes harassment.

"I think the St. Petersburg Beach Police are prejudiced. They could get a lesson here. The (St. Pete Beach) city government does not reflect the attitude of the community, and I will miss the people on St. Petersburg Beach. The officials in Treasure Island have gone out of their way to be helpful."

St. Pete Beach officials have denied Costanza's allegations.

Evander Preston, whose contemporary jewelry design gallery is across the street from the Lighted Tree, has many good memories of the establishment from way back, says his wife, Carmen. "It's going to be a quiet street for a while," she added. "We hope that whoever buys it will have the same outlook as the people on Eighth Avenue."

"I definitely feel it's a shame," George Bailey said of the closing. "It's been a wonderful place of business, and it added color and interest to the street." Bailey is an artist who shows his work at the Pass-a-Grille Art Colony next door to the bar and restaurant.

Calling themselves Gold Chip Inc., the four Bedrox owners plan the largest restaurant, bar and dance club in Pinellas County, with five bars, at their new Treasure Island location.

"It's going to be a progressive establishment, not just for gays but for everyone," Costanza said. "It will be a very high-tech night club, but I'm not going to say what the decor will be."

While the club is under renovation, the restaurant facility, which is leased to Ambrosia of Tampa, will be open with a limited menu.

"But the beach bar will be open and we have a grill," she said. Hours will be 10 a.m to 2 a.m. seven days a week, and she hopes for a grand opening in early November.