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Columbia Restaurant to Open New Location at 'The Lens' in St. Pete

The owners plan to open a new, modern Columbia Restaurant at the foot of "The Lens" pier project in St. Petersburg in 2015.

The City of St. Petersburg and Columbia Restaurant Group announced Thursday a partnership to build a new restaurant as part of "The Lens" pier project.

The restaurant plans include a new location at what's currently The Pelican Parking lot at the Pier's approach. The area will be called the Hub once "The Lens" project is completed.

"We're proud to be able to make a commitment," Columbia Restaurant Group President Richard Gonzmart said.

The proposal is subject to St. Petersburg City Council and a public notice before breaking ground, Mayor Bill Foster said. The plan calls for a $3 million, 7,500-square-foot restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and a rooftop venue.

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The agreement also includes a casual grille on the new Pier's promontory that will provide fresh food and drinks.

Gonzmart says they would be interested in investing in docks to allow boaters to dock at the new Columbia Restaurant.

The City of St. Petersburg will provide $500,000 toward construction, which is part of the city's original $50 million Pier budget, according to the city. Mayor Bill Foster says taxpayer dollars will not be used for this project. The agreement includes a 10-year lease with a monthly rent.

"The Columbia has been a proven tenant at The Pier for 25 years," Foster said. "We are very pleased that Mr. Gonzmart and the Columbia Restaurant Group share our vision for the new St. Pete Pier," Foster said.

"We're proud that we've been there 25 years. But like many of you, I thought we could save it. I thought there was an opportunity," Gonzmart said about the current St. Pete Pier.

Gonzmart said he supports "The Lens" and plans to offer his employees jobs when the new location opens in two years.

"I've been honest with my team throughout this whole process. What I've ensured all my staff (is) that it's gonna be exciting," Gonzmart said.

Gonzmart says they plan to open the new location on Labor Day Weekend in 2015.

"We're looking to create over 130 jobs ... we're looking to put people back to work, we're looking to make this an exciting place to visit."

The Columbia Restaurant is currently located on the fourth floor of the St. Pete Pier and will close on May 31 for construction of "The Lens." The pier will be closed for two years.

During the press conference Thursday, several citizens and business owners held up signs calling for a public vote.

Ahmad Shamsedding, who owns Burger Bay and Wall Treasures with his wife, says they don't know what they're going to do when the pier closes in May. Shamsedding has been a tenant in the pier for 27 years and is frustrated that officials are closing the St. Pete Pier right before the summer. That's his "busy season."

Fred Debardelaben has operated Pier Dolphin Cruises for 22 years and says he wants the public to vote on the issue. Debardeleben says has has an offer to move his business to Sarasota, but will likely stay in downtown St. Pete, docking at a nearby marina.

Related Coverage:

  • Pier Lawsuit Mediation Ends in Impasse
  • New Pro-'Lens' Website Launched
  • Pier Mediation Continued
  • VoteOnThePier Petitioners No Longer Part of Lawsuit Against City
  • City Employees Ask to Be Removed From Pier Lawsuit
  • Last-Minute Pier Hearing Set; City Seeks to Delay Mediation
Tom Tito February 24, 2013 at 04:18 PM
The Columbia survived in a city corrupted by organized crime. When Tampa demolished most of Ybor City they were spared. Now the Pier businesses are being closed a year ahead of when needed for construction to punish them for speaking out and silence their opposition. The Columbia survives again.
Tom Tito February 24, 2013 at 04:23 PM
The downtown TIF zone has many vacant lots and empty businesses. It makes no sense to spend taxpayer money subsidizing a favored business to compete with struggling businesses and to build on the waterfront where the public values open space and open views of the bay.
sparky February 24, 2013 at 04:32 PM
I would like to see the Columbia contract with the city. I bet it is as loose as can be with plenty of outs. It's only a commitment if the lens is completed. Or it allows for simultaneous construction so if the lens is not built they still get a landslide waterfront restaurant.
Bill H. February 24, 2013 at 08:36 PM
It's a ten year lease but with penalties if the lease is not renewed. That goes against the spirit of haveing a vote on anything over ten years. Another way to go around the public without a vote.
Bill H. February 24, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Actually it's a buyout clause where by the City has to buy out the Columbia if the lease fails to renew, but the effect is the same.

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