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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
Jeanni L. Stewart February 21, 2013 at 10:04 PM
I will not be eating there as I do not believe in the Lens project, nor will I support those that do.
Patriot February 21, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Will this make the no LENS guys happy??????????????
Rider February 21, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Relocating the Columbia to that site on land is a big step backwards....and it symbolizes the whole project that doesn't even come close to offerring the experience or views of the present pier....it's so infuriating that there has been so much misinformation put forth about the true restoration costs of this pier...and there still is time to join the forces...Stop the Lens...big event this Saturday at the Pier...
Bill H. February 21, 2013 at 11:31 PM
How can the Mayor say that no taxes will be used? The whole thing is being built with tax increment financing. The city is putting in $500,000. Where does a city get money? Taxes, fees and fines. Fees are just like taxes. There aren't enough fines. will other businesses be subsidized to move?
Rider February 21, 2013 at 11:49 PM
absolutely agreed, Bill H
CJ February 22, 2013 at 12:34 AM
It's time to bend over folks. It has been pretty clear for a long time the city was never seriously listening to any efforts to stop this. They have only been pretending to listen. Snow Jobbing us. The city used the old tactic: ''Tell them anything you can to fend them off, and then just proceed on as planned''. It is rather shocking to witness such a flagrant and dishonest approach on how this project has been pushed through. The reality is that this is nothing new in how cities often get things done...not just here is St Pete. It is just extra painful in this example due to how iconic The Peir is. It's hard to imagine it gone, but it's obviosuly at the inevitable point now. There were so many other ways this project could have been marketed and accomplished. For example, just think how much ''less'' opposition there would be if a small part of the project still had an Inverted Pyramid integrated into it somehow? That should not have been to difficultt to have done...and it would have been ''smart'' psychologically. How that could have been done, I can't say ...but my point is this project has always been offensive in it's presentation. In the end..it will likely be a nice project...but that is hardly the point. The will of the people has been taken advantage of here and any attention it seemd the city was givng anyone and their complaints or objections was simply acting.
Johann February 22, 2013 at 01:11 AM
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. WHAT??? Is Bill Foster paying the $500,000 ??? This is our Mayor??? WOW!!!
Johann February 22, 2013 at 01:17 AM
10% of the ENTIRE TIF Budget is going to subsidize a private for-profit business, to build another view-blocking building directly on our waterfront park system (without a referendum), remove parking, AND give them reduced rents? Is that correct? Seems about right.
Johann February 22, 2013 at 01:20 AM
Correction, 1% of the budget.
Bill H. February 22, 2013 at 01:57 AM
How can TIF money not be taxes???
Steve February 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM
I was rather hoping that Columbia would move into the old Tramor Cafeteria or YWCA building--two vacant sites in a part of town about to see a big building boom.
Rider February 22, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Keep your eye on the Baywalk situation, folks....very interesting that the Columbia wasn't lured to be the flagship restaurant there. A planned gentrification of our waterfront is in full swing....with our tax dollars. They simply don't want "townies" hanging around the sacred cow, Beach Drive. Plain and simple. The Lens is the "Gateway to Gentrification" and the Mayor will say and do anything to get it done. Just wondering if he just may have the power to veto council on this issue due to the "strong form of mayor" government in St Pete. After hearing his "take" on how no tax money is being used for the Columbia restaurant proposal, I don't believe anything he says anymore.
NSDQ47G February 22, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Roger all of that, CJ. They're pulling the proverbial wool over our eyes. The whole situation is a shame-- not unlike the behavior we see in other state and Federal government.
sparky February 22, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Foster fakes it every time. Look at the facts. A 7500 square foot building with rooftop seating. Do you think there will be umbrellas and windbreaks on the roof too? How much of your view of the water will be blocked by this building from beach drive? MOPST IMPORTANT: How can the city contract to build on parkland without a vote of the public since all parkland is protected against development. Look at my previous posts- I said the city will build big buildings several stories high to block our view of the water from our waterfront parks...its coming true. The Columbia has signed an agreement that is most likely full of outs! They may go somewhere else if there is a vote or any delay in the Lens- and there will be since St. Pete is due a vote.
sparky February 22, 2013 at 02:05 PM
Foster finishes the video saying he wants an over water experience...lets vote to move his office to a barge next to the pier during construction...oh wait- we get to vote for Mayor before they begin construction- there is hope.
Babak February 22, 2013 at 02:33 PM
This is great news, particularly the comment about investing in boat docks. The major gripe that I have with regards to the Lens design is the lack of boater access. I think we missed a big opportunity for incorporating some type of water taxi. Never the less, anything is better than that ugly inverted pyramid. Good riddance, old and busted!
Nicolas Weathersbee February 22, 2013 at 05:39 PM
Don't get too excited Babak, there is still the March 27th court date, and the judge will have to decide one way or the other.
Rider February 22, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Awesome, Nic and the water taxi drive is still alive, too. Funding will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to get if a public ferry doesn't have a dock in the heart of the commercial district, which just so happens to be this pier!!! And the city refuses to even discuss this.
phyllis dodge February 23, 2013 at 01:14 PM
what about a dollar store a mcdonalds, why an expensive store that we cannot afford to go to. even an applebees would be nice, with docks for the boats. who dont love to watch boats while they rest and eat. A nice handicapped place for all. A little dog park to the side. so much potentential and no cleverness.....
phyllis dodge February 23, 2013 at 01:17 PM
What if new Mayor does not like...? Then what? What if our new mayor wants the voters to vote? How about some inexpensive places. economy is tough.
sparky February 23, 2013 at 02:26 PM
How about a vote not to turn limited waterfront into commercial space and everyone gets their ice cream on beach drive.
NSDQ47G February 23, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Dollar Store? McDonald's? Why stop there, Phyllis? How about a Super Wal-mart or Sam's Club? We can make it a monument to poor white trash. You're kidding about McDonald's, I hope.
sparky February 24, 2013 at 12:19 AM
Oh, wait. The new pier will just be for people who spend lots of money. They don't want anyone that thinksmMcDs is a treat. Ok I understand what the lens is for. it's for the one percent to look at from afar.
Tom Tito February 24, 2013 at 03:23 PM
That's right. The mayors statement is absurd. This is borrowed money that will be paid back by taxpayers with interest. The Patch should explain the contradiction.
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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