ST. PETE BEACH — The city’s first attempt to approve outdoor dining on a permanent basis, at The Brass Monkey Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille, ran into roadblocks and dissention that sent the request back to the Historic Preservation Board for a vote.
During the April 26 City Commission meeting, Chief Operating Officer Jennifer McMahon explained that in 2015. part of the city’s vision was to allow outdoor dining. However, no action was taken until the start of the pandemic in 2020, when restaurants had to shut down. When taverns and eateries were allowed to partially reopen with temporary outdoor dining, six or seven establishments throughout the city asked to use the city’s public right of way and parking spaces for “parklets.”
Seeing its popularity with patrons, the city subsequently created guidelines and put a permanent parklet or outdoor dining program together, MacMahon explained. Then, in May 2021, city commissioners approved the program where restaurants that had temporary parklet approval can apply for a permanent status.
Five applicants have applied for permanent outdoor dining, with the Brass Monkey, on the 700 Block of Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, being the first, McMahon noted.
She told commissioners in January the Historic Preservation Board gave feedback on the Brass Monkey’s parklet request.
Historic Preservation Board members suggested relocating a loading zone and handicapped space along Gulf Way so it had an ADA-approved curb cut, along with containing the parklet and any alcohol consumption inside a fenced area. The board also suggested the agreement include the city’s ability to revoke the outdoor dining agreement, if issues with alcohol or rowdiness occur.
Historic Preservation also suggested the city should get 10% of the revenue received monthly for those outdoor seating tables with a minimum payment of $2,000 a month, with that revenue dedicated toward the city’s Freebee free-ride program. Payments would begin 18 months after the date of the agreement to allow the business to recoup its investment in building the parklet.
However, Historic Preservation Board member William Loughery called the meeting in January with city staff an insufficient “cram job,” because it was merely considered a discussion item.
“We all went in cold on that. The city presented a one-sided argument about this. Sure, they showed us the plan, but we didn’t get into any kind of discussion about why we are doing this,” he told commissioners. “It was basically just, this is what we are going to do, (and) they didn’t even have it completed. They didn’t know how much they were going to charge per month; it was just an opened-ended discussion item.”
Loughery asked for the issue to be postponed until Historic Preservation has a chance to weigh in. “You can deny our advice, but we have not been in a position to give you advice,” he said. He accused staff of giving “a brief discussion and then they pick and choose what they want to present to you.”
He said there were a lot of negative comments at the Jan. 6 meeting that the City Commission was never told about. “I myself said this is a bad idea, and that never made it to you folks. Instead they are talking about how they resolved certain matters. This is a cram job by the city,” he said.
Mayor Al Johnson said he saw a lot of comments particularly from the Pass-a-Grille Beach Condominiums next door. One email from Dave and Judy Smith noted “there are 30+ residential and rental condos in the building which have already been negatively impacted by the parklet. The increased noise, loss of parking spaces and inebriated people, sometimes threatening, frequently leaving the restaurant with alcoholic drinks, trespassing onto our common areas, have been on ongoing problem.”
Another unit owner, Christine Jones, told city officials “there is no way to contain drunk customers within the parklet, except by completely blocking off the city sidewalk; it is not closed off, the fence is open on the east side.”
She added “the condo had to pay and have a locked gate put up in front of the entrance to our building to keep drunks and Brass Monkey guests out. We ended up having to do this because we had a drunk customer pass out inside in our atrium on the table … Another time an unhappy customer came over and threatened an owner with bodily harm … Customers have taken our tables and chairs out in the street to use and were very upset when asked to return them.”
On the other side of the argument, resident Kate Waldron emailed officials that “we have enjoyed the space where we can bring our 4-year-old daughter as well as our dog. My family loved the outside area and feel very strongly that it is a great addition to the community of Pass-A-Grille.”
Another resident, Gennaro DiMola, noted that “due to Covid a lot of people are still nervous to eat inside, and with outdoor dining, it makes people a lot less nervous to go out and enjoy wonderful food with loved ones.”
Owners of the Paradise Sweets next door to the Brass Monkey, Craig and Beverly Bohnert, said the restaurant’s temporary operation “has shown that it will not be a detriment to the area, in fact it will add a new aspect to the environment.”
Stephen Christianson, general manager of the Brass Monkey, told commissioners the restaurant is only open outside from 4 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, and during the day until 8:30 p.m. on weekends. He said staff has removed the televisions from the parklet.
“What we’ve found over the last few years is that people want to be outside,” Christianson said. “If they are waiting for a table, they want to wait outside. Probably two-thirds of our dining is inside. Everyone wants to be outside, so this would really help out The Monkey, if we had this additional outdoor dining.”
The facility also has a balcony for outdoor dining.
City Manager Alex Rey said that to make up for the loss of four parking spaces in front of the Brass Monkey, there is an opportunity to repave Gulf Way and restripe some of the spaces on 6th and 5th Avenue with angled parking. “We can create up to seven spaces. I know creating additional parking spaces on Pass-A-Grille has always been a delicate subject, so we don’t have to do them, but the option is there,” he told commissioners.
Commissioner Mark Grill objected to giving up four parking spaces when “parking is at a premium across the city, we don’t have enough of it.”
Grill added that not requiring a parking space rental payment for the first 18 months amounted to “a city-funded program.”
“We’re basically funding $36,000 to this one particular applicant,” he said.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said there has been a history of the city working with businesses on 8th Avenue.
“We’re trying to create vibrant communities where you have people sitting outside,” he said. “I think it’s exciting to see that. It creates a great vibrant community. I think it will be an attractive part of 8th Avenue as opposed to having three or four more cars sitting there.”
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, who represents the Pass-a-Grille district, said she wanted a vote from the Historic Preservation Board.
“Sometimes it’s not the right time for things, and I don’t know in Pass-a-Grille if it’s the right time for this level of use.”
Mayor Al Johnson also wanted a written recommendation from the historic board.
Commissioners unanimously voted to send the issue back to the Historic Preservation Board for a non-binding recommendation on the parklet. The City Commission will then have a final vote at a later hearing.