Monty’s Raw Bar has seen better days.
The Coconut Grove institution of draft beer lore and political power lunches is surrounded by a punch-drunk marina of wobbly pilings and cracked concrete docks. A 12,000-square-foot patio of brick pavers undulates like the bottom of the bay. Somehow, a forest of tiki huts stood tall during Hurricane Irma, but exposed wood beams, dirt and piping around their perimeter reveal that the sea wall surrounding the restaurant most certainly did not.
Jose Hevia, president of Aligned Bayshore Marina, which owns the rights to the Dinner Key mainstay, puts it bluntly: “We got clocked.”
Millions of dollars will need to be invested into the old Grove locale in order to fix what Irma wrought. But for Hevia, there’s a bit of a silver lining: His company was spending the money anyway.
Over the last two years, Hevia says Aligned Bayshore Marina has plunged some $4.5 million into upgrades to the restaurant, marina and retail center at 2550 S. Bayshore Dr., located on 6.7 acres of dry and submerged land owned by the city of Miami. He plans to throw at least another $3 million into the work. But to help finance the job, Hevia is asking voters to give their consent Nov. 7 to a potential 52-year extension on Aligned Bayshore’s city lease in exchange for a greater return to the city.
“We’re hoping the voters will appreciate our stewardship of the property,” Hevia said.
In some ways, Hevia is taking a page right out of the playbook run by the venue’s namesake, Monty Trainer, who built a fortune by snatching up under-performing restaurants in prime locations. He also convinced voters 30 years ago to combine and extend his city leases in order to help pay for upgrades — and then promptly sold his rights to developer Manny Medina.
Aligned Bayshore Marina purchased the restaurant, 114-slip marina and adjacent retail center in May 2015. A flip is not in the plans.
“Monty’s is iconic. It’s part of the fabric of Coconut Grove,” Hevia said. “But we felt like the property was sort of stuck in the ’70s.”
Already, much of the work is done. The footprint hasn’t changed, but the retail center has been modernized and redesigned to increase retail space and rents, and to lure new tenants like Sushi Maki.
A similar concept is in store for the marina, where Hevia plans to boost revenues by maximizing dock space without increasing the marina’s footprint, and by improving the quality of the facilities. Renovations are also under way in the restaurant, which has a new menu that replaced some tired staples, and a bar serving freshly made margaritas with double the pours. The battered tiki huts and old, fading tabletops and benches are also being switched out.
But there’s a problem for the businessman and his partners: The lease voters extended for Trainer only runs until 2035.
Hevia says Aligned Bayshore Marina needs a 32-year extension with two 10-year options in order to help finance the work. Under the city’s charter, that would require an open competition unless Miami voters allow the city to waive those requirements — something they essentially did for Trainer in 1985 in order to help finance the creation of the two-story retail center.
City officials say it’s unlikely any competitors would bid on a project subject to a lease that runs for another 18 years. But Hevia is offering to sweeten the pot anyway by improving returns for the city.
Aligned Bayshore is promising to make minimum annual payments of $1.5 million to the city, starting in 2019, with a pledge to pay at least $10 million more to the city over the base term of the new agreement. The company must also invest $4 million into maintenance, and drop the full $7.5 million into upgrades by 2020.
To help sell the vote, Aligned Bayshore Marina has opened a political committee, Yes on Monty’s, and paid for mailers touting plans to pay $50,000 annually into an affordable housing trust and open up water views by demolishing a dockmaster building.
Should voters support an extended lease, Hevia would still need to return and win a final vote from a super-majority of the City Commission in order to nail down his new deal. If the extension doesn’t pass on Nov. 7, the city would stand to own the existing complex outright once Hevia’s lease expires, though it would lose out on the negotiated rent increases.
Hevia said he would continue with the renovations anyway, but hopes it won’t come to that: “I have to finish what I started.”