BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are tearing down the original Popi's Place I to build a parking lot.
The restaurant, previously sold in 2004 by Popi and Manny Ameres to Gus Johnson, was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates and will be demolished after spring training to become a parking lot for McKechnie Field, the organization announced Friday.
The deal closed at 3 p.m. Friday, and at the same time, the restaurant closed for good, said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"The Pirates would like to thank the Johnson family," Gooby said. "They've done a tremendous job over the years operating the restaurant and look forward to the continued development of the city."
The Pirates declined to disclose the purchase price, but it will become public once recorded with the Manatee County Clerk.
The Johnsons are family friends of the Ameres family, well known for their Greek restaurants in the area, and the Ameres family had tried to negotiate with the Johnsons to change the name of the restaurant as the food changed. The Johnsons bought the restaurant for $350,000 in 2004, according to property records.
Shortly after 3 p.m., closing time at Popi's, the restaurant and its parking lot were deserted. The only sign that the restaurant would not be opening up on Saturday was a printed note on the inside of the front door, signed by Gus Johnson and his family. It did not mention the sale of the property.
"For 10 years we have provided the downtown Bradenton community with
great food and service, and you have blessed us with your patronage and smiles. Effective today, Popi's Place 1 is no longer in business. We close our doors with great pride, as we move on to new adventures."
The latest sell hit the Ameres family hard, said Mike Ameres, one of Popi Ameres' sons.
"My mom was in tears the other day when she found out. She started crying," Ameres said. "It's like losing one of her own children."
The Ameres family bought the building in 1986 when it was known as The Dugout, he said. The 1,922-square-foot restaurant was built in 1961, according to property records, and Ameres said it will be weird to see the building go. That restaurant put his siblings through college and made a good living for his parents.
"That place has been a landmark forever," he said.
Popi's Place will serve as a parking lot during game days with about 35 spaces, and once demolition is complete, the Bradenton Marauders Single-A team will have about 50 to 60 spaces to use, Gooby said.
The parking fees are still being determined, Gooby said, and the lot will likely be offered to season ticket holders.
"The restaurant's owners let us know they were ready to retire from the business and sell the property," Gooby said.
Popi's marks the latest acquisition and demolition project for the Pirates.
The baseball team bought the neighboring Boys & Girls Club and demolished it in January for additional parking; the club closed in September 2013. The Pirates donated $1.2 million to the club in exchange for the site.
The Pirates' spring schedule at McKechnie kicks off with the Black & Gold Exhibition at noon Feb. 25.
-- Herald business reporter Matt Johnson contributed to this report
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.