Thursday, December 12, 2013

The saga of Bob's Boathouse restaurant

The permit application for the new Bob's Boathouse restaurant in Sarasota was applied for in April 2010, and granted in September 2010. Construction moved at a pace not unlike the slow drift of continents apart. With great fanfare though they finally opened after over three years of construction in November. Bob's Boathouse restaurant was back in Sarasota after a decade long hiatus.

The building site selected for Sarasota's first Bob's Boathouse restaurant was a pastoral piece of waterfront property at the end of Old Stickney Point Rd on Siesta Key. It consisted of a small retail building, a tiny stand alone wine and beer bar, and a half a dozen quaint (spelled dilapidated) wood framed cottages, one of which I lived in during the early seventies.

The property was zoned for commercial use, and several past attempts had been made to zone it for condominiums. The planning authorities had always said no, at least to the requested densities. The property was acquired by a group headed by Tom Lafevre, a restaurateur from Michigan, and Bob's Boathouse restaurant came to Sarasota, and opened with a bang.

It was a clever and audacious concept. A huge galvanized Quonset hut that had a variety of smaller cabin cruisers inside mixed in with regular table seating. The boat's cabins, and cockpits were converted into dinning areas. A swimming pool, with an outdoor bar faced the intercoastal, and the sandy beach allowed boats to nose in, as long as you kept an eye on the tides. Their food specialty was dishes served on hot rocks. I was an occasional customer. You couldn't beat the intercoastal waterway view, and the live music was good. It was an instant hit, and then the woes started.

Directly adjacent to the restaurant was Peacock Lane with a string of very nice homes, half of which were on the water. Their new neighbor had loud live music, large crowds, and a variety of alcohol related incidents in the parking lot. The existing residents instantly took voracious umbrage, and made their displeasure known to all who would listen. They took videos of parking lot incidents complained about the noise, and besieged the sheriff's department, county commissioners and the zoning department.

Just to give you a feel for the scale of events, it was reported by other news organizations that the sheriff's department between 1999, and 2002 responded to 1916 disturbance calls, 316 of which were noise related. Now to be fair, the local residents were using every tool at their disposal to document every single event, so its difficult to define the actual magnitude of these disturbances. But have no doubt, it was a loud and busy establishment that operated until 2:00am in the morning.

Lawsuits were filed, over the noise, money was spent on attorneys, and finally a Federal court said they could have live music, but it had to stop at 10:00pm instead of 2:00am. Bob's restaurant asked for a noise exception, and the answer was a resounding no! From the adjacent property owners view point this was better, but not still not satisfactory. Finally a deal was struck with the restaurant.

An offer materialized to rezone the property for condominiums, if Bob's boathouse restaurant would close, and just go away. The neighbors grumbled a bit about the height of the buildings, but given the alternative of the establishment staying in place quickly endorsed the concept. There were lessons here the restaurant's owners seemed to have learned.

The restaurant is dismantled, and the Marina Del Sol condominiums you see above rose from the ashes of Bob's Boathouse. The Quonset hut was transported years later to Michigan to live another life again as a eclectic eatery and purveyor of adult beverages. 

Not too much later a large sign appears on a commercial waterfront property next to the Blackburn Point bridge about 10 miles south of the original Sarasota Bob's Boathouse restaurant. The sign proudly proclaimed "Bob's Boathouse restaurant is coming here soon."

The surrounding condo and subdivision associations went bonkers. A board member of one of them told me at the time, "It will be over our dead body before we have that restaurant here." The howls of indignation promptly began. The county fathers all too clearly remembering the previous acrimonious battles quickly capitulated, and the property was rezoned for condos. The only thing the property owners didn't get was towers on directly on the intercoastal waterway. They did get the low rise condos, the integrated boat storage facility and the condo docks. The Bellagio Harbor Village was born.

The next project Bob's Boathouse's Tom Lafevre was involved in was a condo project on Donna bay in Nokomis. This was his fiscal Waterloo. The housing market had collapsed, while still under construction.

The newly resurrected Bob's Boathouse is on a former GMC truck dealership site, and is bordered on the north side by Phillippi Creek, and the south side by a church. It's been obvious since the project began, that funding has always been an issue, and slowed the construction project down. Lot of liens have been filed by contractors in an effort to get payment, and numerous contractors have been cycled through the project. There is apparently a measurable amount of acrimony that now exists between the restaurant owners and some of their contractors as evidenced by the toilet in the mens room when the restaurant first opened.

The text was removed at some point after opening, and replaced with a more generic comment on the walkway used enter the building. I suspect calmer litigious adverse voices prevailed.

It was Deja vu all over again circa 1999. Like the previous restaurant, this one is also directly adjacent to a subdivision. In fact it's close enough to throw a tennis ball into the back yards of some homes. Noise complaints instantaneous appeared upon the opening with live music.

There was a second controversy about the facility. There is a church just to the south that is about 300' away. Sarasota's ordinances say a establishment that sells liquor must be at least 800' away from any church. The site development plan made provisions for this issue. The ordinances go on to say, "Such distance shall be measured by following the shortest route of ordinary pedestrian travel along the public thoroughfare from the main entrance of the vendor’s place of business to the main entrance of the nearest church."

What this means is the sidewalk on the north side of the restaurant that goes up to US 41 is the route that is measured, and it's slightly more than 800'.

The new Bob's house restaurant has a form follows function nautical chic appearance. The structure is the relocated, and modified service bays from the original truck dealership. This however is not unlike a service facility from a larger marina. Lots of boat are scattered outside, and you enter thorough a shark mouth shaped cutout in the bow of an older cruiser.

The interior is spacious, and in places cleverly done. In the screened patio life  preservers, are the seat backs, and throw-able cushions are the seats. I'm not sure what all the tables hanging from the ceiling are all about, but they break up a basically finish ceiling. There is an inside bar and open dining areas. Nautical esque stuff is hanging on the walls. All and all, not a bad job on a tight budget. 

There is a patio with a bar outside with plenty of umbrellas, along with a now fenced off "Water Feature", not to be confused with a pool. My best guess is there was originally an image of bikini clad patrons being able to frolic around in an over sized wading pool. The code enforcement folks, I think were concerned over the potential of having the "Water Feature" confused as a miniature shallow pool. The rope swing hanging over it didn't help this image either.

I waited a month to let things settle down before visiting. The start up of any new restaurant can be rough, and Bob's Boathouse was no exception. Some of the early reviews were pretty harsh. I had lunch there this week, and it was a good experience. The menu, and drink prices are a bit high, but not overly excessive.

I was met at the door, and quickly seated. A server named Bobby was there shortly. By the way, everybody in this place, is named Bobby. I in my usual porcine favoring fashion ordered a fried baloney sandwich, and a Yuengling  draft. The food came in a timely fashion What I ordered is what I got, and the food was hot. I was checked on regularly and the bill was under $10.00. The server received a $4.00 tip, and was pleasant at all times. I felt there was a large ongoing effort to please their guests. I do hope they succeed. 

The future forecast for Bob's Boathouse restaurant is stormy, with a chance of hail. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune the restaurant still owes over $77,000 in fees to the Sarasota county utilities department, and if not paid their still temporary certificate of occupancy will be revoked at the end of the month. The general contractor has withdrawn their services over payment issues further complicating the situation, and there are lots of unpaid bills that require attention. The noise issues still need to be resolved in some fashion. Hmmm, maybe if there are enough noise complaint's the property could be rezoned. There is a sign on the property.


  1. Bill, I went to Florida once, when I was 15 and Disneyworld was still in its wrapper. But every other impression I have of Florida regarding the way residents and "nautical endeavors" seem to be in conflict has been pretty consistent. You and Carl Hiassen seem in accord here. I understand the concept of NIMBYism, but I also do not like condo monoculture much, nor people who sic the cops on boaters for legally anchoring in sight of some lubber's McMansion.

  2. Great story Bill. You just gave me an idea. I know of a property now zoned residential that I would like to build condos on. The residents will oppose the rezoning app of course, so I will erect a sign saying "Future site of Bob's Boathouse". We will then reach a compromise that allows condos, and I will promise to never build a restaurant. LOL

  3. A very interesting article! The saga continues.

  4. He is setting up for a new lawsuit against Sarasota County. Thought you might want to know.

  5. And as of the past couple of weeks as of today March 24. 2015 the 'new sign' (won't mention what happened to the original one) has a sheet over with it note on the front door 'closed until further notice'. I believe if you watch that location, you will see condos going up on that location...never was busy enough to warrant that huge parking lot. I'd say Lefebre is up to his old tricks again.


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