Bradenton's Tarpon Pointe stays open despite landlord-tenant dispute

cschelle@bradenton.comJune 19, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The city has given Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar a two-month reprieve from shutting it down as the landlord gets one more chance to make repairs it promised in a memorandum of understanding two years ago.

The landlord of the thatched-hut bar and restaurant at the end of Bradenton's Riverwalk: R. Scott Tibbetts and his partner, City Clerk Carl Callahan.

The city has threatened to shut down Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar if the work isn't done. The business owner claims that's what his landlords want.

The restaurant's owner, Bruce Bottorff, is suing Tibebetts for breach of contract and damages, alleging Tibbetts is harassing his customers and violating parking agreements. Bottorff also said he discovered that his landlord performed unlicensed work as a contractor at Tarpon Pointe.

Tibbetts has since been prohibited by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation from doing any more unlicensed work on the property.

In a short interview Monday with the Herald, Tibbetts said all the claims in the lawsuit were false, and noted the work he did at the restaurant was approved by the city.

The city has scheduled an August hearing in front of the code review board in which Tibbetts must either prove he has installed a device on the water line that the city of Bradenton has been maintaining, despite an agreement two years ago designed to relieve the city of its liability.

In an April 15 letter from Timothy Polk, director of planning and community development, Tibbetts was given 60 days to do the required work. That work still has not been complet

ed, so the city has scheduled the meeting with the code review board.

"Per the Memorandum of Understanding between you and the City of Bradenton Fire, Public Works & Utilities, and Planning & Community Development departments dated June 30, 2011, you, as the owner agreed to install a 6" Backflow Preventer on the 6" waterline that ... extends onto your properties," the letter states. It goes on to say that the work has never been done.

Polk said Tibbetts has an opportunity to get in compliance or "explain why he is not in compliance" during the code review board meeting.

Bottorff contends greed is driving Tibbetts. He wants to take over the restaurant, which makes about $250,000 a month and pays $20,000 a month in rent to the landlords.

Bottorff said Tibbetts believes the restaurant is "underutilizing" its ability to make money.

"If we're averaging $250,000 a month, tell me what restaurants are doing that," Bottorff said. "There's not a restaurant doing that, that's not a chain."

In October 2000, the city of Bradenton deeded Tibbetts the 4.64-acre waterfront property for $150,000. The assessed value was $202,118 that year. The city had paid $69,500 for the land 20 years earlier.

By 2002, the assessed value jumped to more than $1.9 million. The restaurant was built in 2011 and the latest assessed value is $4.3 million, while the market value is estimated at $5.25 million, according to county records.

"There is obviously a deep-rooted business relationship between the two, Callahan and Tibbetts," Bottorff said. "We had no idea how deep that was. We didn't realize it when we signed the lease on the restaurant."

Bottorff said it is that relationship that has allowed Tibbetts to do unpermitted work and to drag his feet on the backflow work that would allow Bottorff to build much-needed bathrooms for the restaurant. Without the bathrooms, the city could shut him down -- and has threatened to do so, he said.

The restaurant is required to have a bathroom for every 75 people, Botorff said, and portable restrooms can only be brought in for special events when occupancy is expected to rise. Botorff wants to build eight additional restrooms -- four men's rooms and four women's rooms.

A preliminary permit has been filed for the work, according to the city's online permit search, and the contractor is Essex Building Group LLC.

"They'll still be able to operate," pending the August hearing, Polk said Monday.

In the lawsuit, Bottorff said he paid his landlords more than $1.5 million in 2011 for parking, kitchen, pavilion and bathroom work, but later discovered that Tibbetts and his company Manatee Landings Marina were not licensed contractors. Bottorff filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation. DBPR agreed with Bottorff's findings and ordered Tibbetts on March 1 to "cease and desist" his contractor work -- even though it was already completed.

The city approved all of the various permits in 2010 and 2011.

In his review of the case, Sean J. Anderson, assistant general counsel for DBPR, wrote that Tibbetts' "actions constituted unlicensed activity."

"Any consumer harm is unclear; all permits received final approval," Anderson wrote. "Subject has no history of unlicensed activity with the Department. As such further prosecution is unwarranted at this time."

Anderson said Tibbetts told the department that "in the future all improvements to the property will be permitted by licensed contractors." If he does, according to Anderson's closing order, the case could be reopened.

Tibbetts said Monday that he pulled permits for work under $75,000, and was well within his right. "Anybody can file a complaint with DBPR," Tibbetts said. "They closed the file completely because they found that I did nothing wrong." Polk also said Tibbetts did nothing wrong.

"The Florida Building Code allows an owner-contractor to do work as long as they used licensed subcontractors and the work is under $75,000," Polk said.

Since work on the restaurant's parking lot was completed, at Bottorff's expense, Tibbetts has "commenced a continuous pattern of harassment and interference" with the restaurant's operations, "with the intent to take over" the business, according to the lawsuit Bottorff filed in February.

Bottorff is seeking damages to recover lost profits, loss of employment and to grant further relief.

According to the lawsuit, Tibbetts also inconvenienced customers and the restaurant by blocking parking during peak restaurant hours, calling trucks to tow customers' cars, blocking off parking, removing boats from trailers and placing them in parking spaces, refusing boats to dock and charging restaurant customers for dock usage.

Parking is only to be rearranged when a separate indoor restaurant is built on the property, according to the lawsuit, and Botorff has decided not to construct the restaurant to prevent Tibbetts from having that power.

The lawsuit also alleges that Tibbetts has publicly claimed he would take over the restaurant and operations through intimidation and harassment.

Tibbetts told the Herald that those claims are "false."

Tibbetts said an answer to the complaint in Circuit Court was filed Monday, but the answer was not recorded by the Clerk of the Court by Tuesday afternoon.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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