By Steve Plunkett

    Interest has waned dramatically over opening a waterfront restaurant on the former Wildflower site.

    Three stand-alone restaurants, two multistory complexes, a recreation-oriented business and a recent architecture graduate offered proposals two years ago, when the city first solicited informal “letters of interest.”

    In September, the city asked for formal lease proposals but received only one.

    “We’ve just received it and it’s in the process of being reviewed,” Deputy City Manager George Brown told the City Council on Nov. 26. 

    The Hillstone Restaurant Group met the deadline, Brown said, giving no other details. Staff will present the proposal to the council in January.

    Hillstone operates Houston’s restaurants on Executive Center Circle in Boca Raton and in Pompano Beach and North Miami Beach. It also runs the Palm Beach Grill in Palm Beach and other brands across the country.

    In its earlier letter of interest, Hillstone said it would build a 7,500-square-foot restaurant with a 1,000-square-foot patio. It sought a minimum 20-year lease and said it would pay $500,000 a year in rent plus 5 percent of its gross annual sales. Rent would increase 5 percent every three years, Hillstone said.

    The city bought the 2.3-acre parcel in 2009 for $7.5 million. It fronts the Intracoastal Waterway at the northwest base of the Palmetto Park Bridge. Silver Palm Park is south of the bridge. Council members decided last spring that doing something with the land was their top priority of the year.

    They also decided they wanted a “signature” restaurant with “significant public space” at the Wildflower site, which once featured a noisy after-hours restaurant.

    Two restaurants dropped out of competition: Guanabanas in Jupiter and BrickTop’s, a Nashville, Tenn.-based chain founded by a former Houston’s executive. BrickTop’s has since opened restaurants in Coral Gables, St. Louis and Franklin, Tenn., and is hiring for another restaurant opening soon in Palm Beach.

    The Wildflower site is the east gateway to downtown, and city officials envision a hub of activity there as well as landscaping to emphasize the site’s waterfront.

    The council passed an ordinance Nov. 26 declaring the request for proposals to be the method of “selling” the site. City code considers a lease of public land for five years or more to be a sale.

    “We are not putting the Wildflower property up for sale by this ordinance. We are establishing the RFP as the process by which to negotiate a lease if we so choose,” Mayor Susan Whelchel said.

    The council can decide to open negotiations with Hillstone, start over, do nothing or come up with a different plan altogether, Brown said.

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