Hollywood Beach Restaurateurs Sound Off on Margaritaville
Even on a blistering August weekday, a healthy flow of people struts up and down the Broadwalk, the paved pedestrian walkway that lines Hollywood Beach. There's a strand of blue-collar businesses to the west and wide-open sand and waves to the east.
Walking down the strip is a pair of girls with purple-and-pink-dyed hair in skimpy bikinis whose bellies jiggle with each step they take toward the shade. Twenty-something bros in Spy sunglasses and flowered board shorts walk slowly, dragging their Reef sandals.
Around lunchtime, much of the restaurants' outdoor seating is empty. Near Buchanan Street at Hollywood Grill, an Armenian and Russian restaurant, workers sit four across at a table on the far edge of the sidewalk near the front door. They stare out over the Broadwalk as a towel-wrapped family of tourists speaking Italian pauses to look at the menu. It plies pickled herring with potatoes, lamb kebabs, and a platter of cured beef tongue and basturma, an Eastern European cured meat that's heavily salted and seasoned with cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and paprika. Yet the family slinks instead to a nearby bar advertising "The World's Best Bloody Mary."
As you near Johnson Street, the quiet din of a faraway hydraulic drill grows to a low roar. Only a few hardhat-wearing construction workers walk around the dusty, gravelly site that in about three years will be transformed into Margaritaville, a manufactured, Caribbean-influenced resort hideaway inspired by Jimmy Buffett's beach-bum brand.
Developer Lon Tabatchnick, who's partnering with hotel giant Starwood Capital on the project, finally took control of city-owned land in early July after securing $80 million toward the $147 million project. He's signed a 99-year lease on the waterfront property and is to pay $1 million a year for the life of the lease. The city is kicking in $23 million and expects to bring in about $1.9 billion over the lifetime of the deal. Work was supposed to kick off in March, but hurdles in financing and permitting forced developers to at least twice delay construction.
Renderings of the finished resort show what could be the backdrop for an episode of the Love Boat. Multiple pools are surrounded by tall royal palms. There's a circular, two-level tiki bar with a massive thatched roof that backs up to a glittering, gray-and-white hotel. A grounded twin-propeller plane and a long sailboat with a billowing jib sail jut toward the Broadwalk.
Buffett is likely to stop by the resort for a grand opening performance, according to the company that manages the Margaritaville brand. After that, who knows.
"Jimmy tours regularly and if it works out that a tour stop in Hollywood makes then absolutely," said Tamara Baldanza, director of new business for Margaritaville Hospitality Group, "but you'll never know for sure when he's going to come."
Yet the mood toward the 350-room resort, where that lost shaker of salt may be hiding, is skeptical.
"It's going to be a hassle until it's built, but as soon as it's completed, it's going to bring revenue to the Broadwalk, especially me," says Bob Ferro, owner of Nick's Bar & Grille, an institution on the beach. "We need it desperately."
Throughout the day, beachgoers walk up to the open windows at Nick's to grab a beer. Inside, to the hum of a strawberry daiquiri blender, people chow down on fried clam rolls and chicken wings. Ferro estimates the beach will see, on average, an additional 500 people per day and is knocking down his longstanding dive to build a three-story restaurant he says will have all of the original location's charm, along with space for all the new blood.
"Anything they do to improve the area is good," says Fulvio Sardelli, who owns the pricey Sardelli's Italian Steakhouse on the Intracoastal Waterway side of the beach. "Maybe I'll get a customer or two out of it."
Yet from an informal survey of business owners, what they seem to fear the most is the 27 months it will take the build the resort. The Johnson Street garage and a neighboring lot closed last month, and with them went 800 spots, almost a third of all public parking on the beach. Margaritaville will open with more than 1,000 spots, with 600 of them for the public, but some are skeptical they'll make it that long.
"I don't think the city has given any consideration to how badly it's going to affect us," said Manoucher "Ali" Shaditalab, who owns the Peruvian restaurant Pachamamma on Johnson Street. In the first month since the parking crunch, he estimated business is down 60 to 70 percent. "I've spoken with the minimarket beside me, and he said he can't last more than two months."
"Two years [without parking] is not six months," says Hasan Kochan, who owns Istanbul Restaurant, a Turkish spot that plays loud, driving techno and serves spicy pizzas topped with lamb and tomato. "People could wait six, eight, ten months, but two years is too much."
Yet opinions vary, even around the corner. Some business owners are concerned over the effects of Margaritaville's construction, while others brush it off.
"Business attracts business," says Nathan Lieberman, who with his father, South Beach developer Alan Lieberman, owns Taco Beach Shack. Three years after opening, the small, outdoor-seating-only restaurant has become a favorite thanks to tacos filled with juicy short rib or freshly grilled mahi.
Lieberman says he's not concerned about the more than half-dozen restaurants the new resort will hold either.
"When the weather is nice, no one stays inside a hotel; they walk around the beach; they go to the cafés," he adds. "Hollywood Beach needs Margaritaville, more development, and more action."
For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.
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