With the backing of two major restaurateurs, developer Tom Lambdon says he has cleared one more hurdle in his effort to build an observation deck and restaurant tower on Clearwater Beach.
Dan Harvey, owner of the popular Harvey's 4th Street Grill in St. Petersburg and Nick Nickolas, owner of eight upscale restaurants around the nation, including Miami Beach and Boca Raton, have pledged support for the concept and are close to offering financial backing, Lambdon said.
To offset costs for the estimated $13.5-million structure, the idea is for Harvey to operate a moderately priced ground-floor deli and grill. Nickolas would run a more expensive revolving rooftop restaurant.
Lambdon, president of Media Innovative Technologies Inc. in Pinellas Park, submitted an informal proposal with an artist's rendering of a 600-foot tower to city officials last week. City commissioners decided in June to determine the best use for a piece of public land at the base of Pier 60 to be developed by private investors.
Clearwater resident Bill Baldwin, president of the Baldwin Group Architects Inc., came up with the tower idea and was the only other investor to come forward with a proposal. Baldwin has said he, too, is supported by several wealthy investors, most of whom he declined to name.
Lambdon says Harvey told him that he needed to get another "major player" to support the proposal. Nickolas immediately came to Harvey's mind, Lambdon said. It was Harvey, Lambdon said, who helped him contact Nickolas.
Nickolas, 56, said he "went with his gut" in deciding to support Lambdon's concept.
"Rooftop restaurants stand out. And if they're located well and serve great food, you've got a great big hit," Nickolas said from his Miami Beach restaurant on Tuesday. "It's a natural draw."
Harvey was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Nickolas, who has been a restaurant owner for 30 years, operates three rooftop restaurants, including Top of the Tower in Boca Raton. He also owns three restaurants in Hawaii, as well as Nick's Fishmarket, a celebrity magnet in Chicago. His restaurants are widely known for their high prices, fresh seafood, exemplary service and romantic settings.
Now, Nickolas said, he is interested in experimenting with doing business on the Suncoast.
"We've established the structure of the deal; now we're ready to move on to the next step," Lambdon said.
Lambdon is giving Nickolas a tour by plane this weekend. Nickolas said he wants to know what the area looks like and its proximity to Tampa before entering into a financial agreement. He said he suspects the west coast might be a more stable place to operate a restaurant than south Florida.
"I'm a little worried about the seasonality of the (Clearwater) area, but I think it might be easier to operate a place on the west coast," Nickolas said. "Because of all the crime and the tourist shootings, this is the worst tourist season we've had in Miami Beach in 15 years."
Lambdon has proposed other ambitious projects in Pinellas County, including a motion simulation theater in Madeira Beach and a giant roller coaster off The Pier in St. Petersburg. He said he still is working on both deals.
City staff is reviewing Lambdon's and Baldwin's proposals, and will give city commissioners a formal request for proposal sometime in November. Commissioners ultimately will decide which deal better benefits the city.
But Lambdon said that with Harvey and Nickolas on board, "this adds a lot of substance to the deal."