By Jane Smith
The bright yellow cottage that sits on East Ocean Avenue in Boynton Beach remains empty, more than nine months after its renovation was finished.
Its former owner, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board, talked about options for the future at its November meeting.
“They are attempting to find another tenant after the Living Room deal fell through,” said Michael Simon, CRA executive director.
The current owners, Richard Lucibella and Barbara Ceuleers, had planned to lease the restaurant to Lisa Mercado, who ran the Living Room eatery on Congress Avenue in Boynton Beach.
She wanted to call the 480 Ocean Ave. restaurant Fork Play, and serve light bites, craft beers and wine. But Mercado decided to take a much-needed holiday and spend a few months in Hawaii. The Living Room landlord didn’t want to allow anyone other than Mercado to run that restaurant, she said. That’s why it closed after more than 10 years.
Mercado wants to operate Fork Play at a reasonable rent and is willing to give the Little House owners a percentage of the profits.
Lucibella declined to comment about Mercado’s proposal.
“We don’t have a reverter clause in this contract,” Simon told the CRA board members. The agency used that clause to claw back the Magnuson House after the previous owner held the property for nearly 18 months but never moved forward with plans to convert the historic home into a restaurant.
“The restaurant has an extremely high asking rent,” Simon said at the meeting, speaking of the 480 Ocean site.
The owners are asking $61.52 per square foot, or $7,500 per month, according to the listing on the commercial real estate website LoopNet.
Lucibella, a former vice mayor of Ocean Ridge, said his real estate broker set the price based on comparable rents in the area.
He and Ceuleers paid $335,000 for the cottage, locally known as the Little House, the original restaurant’s name, to the Boynton Beach CRA. Since the April 2016 purchase, they installed a metal roof, enclosed the porch with impact windows and made other upgrades.
Despite all that work, the small restaurant with 1,463 square feet remains empty.
“Ocean Avenue development has had a lot of twists and turns during the past 30 years,” Lucibella said. “It’s difficult to rent when you’re the first business in that area. We have a lot of interest, but when we show the property the restaurateurs have second thoughts about the area.”
In June, the six-story 500 Ocean apartment complex opened across Southeast Fourth Street from the Little House. The apartment complex has 17,000 square feet of commercial space. The available bays vary in size up to 2,498 square feet and asking rents range from $20 to $29 a square foot, according to LoopNet. Kim Fitzgerald, the Crossman and Co. broker who has the listing, said 5,700 square feet, or about 34 percent, is leased to three tenants: a Colombian/Peruvian restaurant, a hair salon and a nail salon. She expects the businesses to open next spring.
CRA board member Justin Katz does not want the agency to own the Little House again.
“Under no circumstances should the CRA take it back,” Katz said at the agency’s Nov. 13 meeting.
But if the owners try to sell the Little House, the CRA holds the right of first refusal to purchase it, said Steven Grant, CRA board chairman.