Riviera Beach Sweetheart

A popular waterfront tiki bar rocks and rolls on municipal largess

Tiki bar owner Bob Gregory and Riviera Beach city officials have had it made in the shade for five years running. It's taxpayers who are getting burned.

Gregory has run the popular Tiki Waterfront Sea Grill at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina since 2003. The place occupies a prime piece of Florida paradise, on the Intracoastal looking out on Peanut Island, where boaters and tourists flock. It's packed with people every weekend.

Even city officials love the place. And sometimes, they drink and eat there for free. A prominent local civic association has charged that Gregory's Tiki Waterfront Sea Grill was being used by commissioners as a "free private club."

A great place to visit. Even greater if you're a city official.
A great place to visit. Even greater if you're a city official.

Trouble is that it's the people of Riviera Beach who foot the bill. The terms of Gregory's lease indicate that the city has squandered more than a million dollars in revenue on the deal during the past five years.

Let's break it down:

• The lease itself is grossly inaccurate. It shows that Gregory is renting 1,500 square feet of space from the city for the ridiculously low sum of $2,550 per month. In fact, the tiki bar occupies nearly 11,000 square feet of waterfront on the dock, along with a free boat slip. So Gregory is leasing a large waterfront bar and grill for about what the average person pays on a house mortgage.

• Gregory also pays the city a mere $800 a month for water, electric, and garbage service. According to city documents, taxpayers are paying an additional $900 a month for garbage pickup alone. Electric bills for the tiki bar average about $7,500 a month. Who's picking up that cost? The taxpayers.

• As if the deal weren't sweet enough, the city, with no official authorization or documentation, has given Gregory more than $10,000 worth of breaks on rent payments. In return, city officials ate free lunches at the tiki bar, along with other unspecified purchases. The fact that Gregory employs Ethel Isaacs Williams, wife of Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams, as his attorney only makes the relationship that much cozier.

The ridiculous lease is up for renewal right now, and veteran West Palm Beach club owner Michael Goelz, who has been investigating Gregory's tiki bar for the past several weeks, wants the city to put it out to bid. He says he would offer the city north of ten times what Gregory is paying. That would come out to more than $300,000 a year extra in city revenues.

Goelz, who owns Mr. G's Rock Bar & Grill in West Palm Beach, says he has used his contacts in the food and beverage industry to determine that Gregory, who didn't return a detailed phone message for comment, likely does more than $2.5 million in sales each year and clears more than $1 million.

It's a huge take, considering Gregory pays the city a mere pittance to use the property.

"I had my eye on the property, and I saw in the lease that it was 1,500 square feet," Goelz says. "Then I was sitting in there one day and started looking around, and suddenly it hit me: 'This place is huge.' "

He says the city must have known the lease was faulty. Gregory applied for a permit with the city to build the 10,636-square-foot tiki bar shortly after he signed the first lease in 2003.

But city officials either somehow missed the discrepancy or simply looked the other way as they ate and drank at the tiki bar. Goelz says he just wants a fair shot to bid for the lease.

"I'm not here to get anybody in trouble," he says. "I'm here to give the city a reason to give me a chance to win the bid. You don't understand — that place is a gold mine for the city, and they've given it away."

Putting the lease out to bid would seem the right thing to do. In Gregory's favor, he did build the structure five years ago. But even though he spent $500,000 on it, the waste in revenue to the city is still in the high six figures, if not a million dollars.

Considering the staggering amount of lost revenue, it's impossible not to wonder if more serious misconduct has been at play — and whether somebody should be in trouble. Singer Island Civic Association President Anthony Gigliotti thinks so. Gigliotti, a health-care consultant who lives on the upscale island with his wife, says the marina is one of several issues that need to be investigated.

"There are very serious questions raised with the tiki bar," says Gigliotti, who is married to Palm Beach County Clerk of Court Sharon Bock. "The only way the change is going to come down is if [federal investigators] bring a legal remedy."

The civic association prompted the state's auditor general to audit the city two years ago after the association complained about a host of problems, including an allegation that the tiki bar was used as a "free private club" for city officials.

The state's ensuing investigation somehow missed the larger problems with the tiki bar lease, but it found evidence pointing to institutional corruption, which might help to explain why Gregory has received the sweetheart deal.

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