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Riverside Market: Happy Ending in Sight?

This year, we've been captivated by the Riverside Market saga, which has all of the makings of a good Disney movie. There's the greedy megabucks millionaire, the blundering city government, the affable main character who brings positive changes to a sleepy town, and the tight-knit locals who rally behind him. The story could get better only if Emilio Estevez were cast as Riverside Market's owner, Julian Siegel.

Siegel opened the Riverside Market more than three years ago; since then, the café and craft-beer emporium's popularity has grown exponentially, evolving into a community center where flocks of locals gather on a regular basis.

Pervasive zoning issues have plagued the neighborhood hot spot since last year, when Siegel was informed that patrons could no longer drink beer on the premises since his building was not zoned for it. More recently, a botched parking-lot auction threatened to destroy Siegel's business until the city was made aware of its careless error and called for a do-over. Despite these setbacks, it appears that things may finally be starting to look up for the Riverside neighborhood's beloved underdog.

Earlier this month, we asked whether Riverside Market would have to move after noticing a number of signs plastered throughout the café stating that on-site beer consumption was not permitted. A week after the article ran, we sat down with Siegel for an update.

In June, a second auction was held for the lot, at which time Siegel was told he was the only bidder. Taxicab magnate and real-estate mogul Jesse Gaddis, who had previously bid on and initially won the lot as a result of the city's embarrassing oversight, now says that he could care less about the lot.

Two weeks ago, Siegel received a deposit and contract for sale for the purchase of the lot to the tune of $33,000. Initially the city valued the property at $15,300, an amount that was later increased to $25,300 when the lot went to auction the second time. Siegel placed a higher bid under the assumption that Gaddis would rebid. The contract has been executed, and the sale will be reviewed at the Fort Lauderdale City Commission at a meeting scheduled for late August; no official date has been set.

Siegel has also met with the Riverside neighborhood's civic association, which is in favor of keeping Riverside Market in the community. During the meeting, Siegel was advised to apply for an H-1 status, which would designate the market, which was built in 1928, as an historic building. It's the same status that has been granted to the Snow-Reed Swing

Bridge, the overpass that connects the Riverside and Sailboat Bend

neighborhoods which was built in 1924.

The historic designation would permit "soft" businesses like Siegel's

to continue its operations without going through the tedious process of applying for zoning changes. That is not to say that Siegel won't have

jump through a few hoops or to pay a pretty penny to gain this status; he estimates that the process will cost somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000. The designation would also benefit the neighborhood by putting in place specific guidelines, which would prohibit more commercial businesses, like a Mc Donald's, from opening in the space, in the event that

Siegel decides to sell the property in the future. .

If granted H-1 status, the Riverside Market owner has big plans for the property and the neighborhood. Blueprints for his neighborhood improvement project show that there will be plenty of room for parking as well as an expansion of the market's hydroponic garden, and the addition of several bike racks. Cadence, an eco-friendly, Fort Lauderdale-based urban planning and design company, has expressed interest in teaming up with Siegel for the project.

Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Romney Rogers has also reached out to Siegel. Rogers recently requested a copy of Siegel's plans and may be able to help him secure a zoning-in-progress permit approval. The permit would temporarily lift the market's residential zoning restrictions while the Siegel goes through the historical designation process.

The combined total for the parking lot, lot improvements, and the rezoning process are expected to be well over $50,000. Siegel has set up an online fundraising campaign and is also selling T-shirts ($15) at the market to help raise money. There are still many challenges that lie ahead for Riverside Market, but it's starting to look like this story may just have a happy ending.

Keep following Clean Plate Charlie for more updates on the Riverside Market saga.

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Misha Grosvenor

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