The Coastal Star

Lake Worth: City wrestles with expenses exceeding casino expectations

One highlight of the Casino remodeling has been the use of the ballroom

for events like the Daddy-Daughter/Mother-Son Date Night on Feb. 7.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

 

By Christine Davis

    The Lake Worth Casino project was completed, with great fanfare, just a year ago. However, revenue is not what was expected, unanticipated expenses cropped up, and more tweaks are needed to put the complex in the black. 

    The Lake Worth beach “has the best sunrise in the county,” said the city’s leisure services director, Juan Ruiz. In addition, the facility is beautiful, and new activities at the beach such as the bonfires, arts festival and a sand-sculpting event have been popular, he added.   

    But looking back, did the financial projections make sense? 

    The city had hoped for better. Projections have been replaced with a year’s worth of hard data.

    The project ended up costing $13 million (projected at $11 million). The county granted $5 million. The city decided last fall not to make its $500,000 loan payment to its Water Utility Fund, from which it borrowed $6 million. 

    “People enjoy the site and the amenities; but the amenities cost, and we are getting an idea of the true cost. Before, those costs were estimates, and we will come back and adjust quarterly, so that the property will be successful, ” Ruiz said. 

    “We are looking at how to fill the voids,” he said.

    Concerning income and expenses: While parking spots are full (when the sun shines) and the casino space is booked a couple of years out (for weekend weddings), the 5,000-square-foot second-floor space next to the ballroom has yet to find a tenant, party facilitators and maintenance personnel (not addressed in the original budget) need to be hired, and the pool is expensive to operate. 

    The city is looking for solutions, Ruiz said. “We’re seeking a tenant to occupy the empty space, and the original beach fund didn’t address the pool. To keep it open year-round, 29 hours a week, will cost around $300,000. We’re looking at ways to generate more revenue at the pool.”

    Tenants, for the most part, are satisfied.

    Frank Lograsso, owner of Mamma Mia’s On The Beach pizzeria, said, “Things are working out great. It’s just as I expected.”

    Kilwin’s owner Raffy Abraham said he’s happy and his customers are happy.

    Mulligan’s Beach House Bar & Grill, however, has experienced some belt-tightening, but it’s not all bad.

    Owner George Hart has five other waterfront restaurants, and, last year, he said, he was “sold” on this property. He invested $1.5 million; he’s paying $21,000 a month on a 20-year lease; his property taxes last year were $45,000.

    “We liked the property, but the Realtor told us that the north parking lot would be available to us; we would be involved in a valet service; and that we would have ample light for our night business. None of that happened.

    “I spent $10,000 on a golf cart to get people up the hill from the parking lot. We don’t have sufficient lighting, and it’s scary to bring your children out there at night. We were never provided valet service, which we were willing to pay for. We were never allowed usage of the parking lot to the north, so, now, you have to move your car in the middle of dinner or you are locked in. 

    “We should get together to solve the problems. We are watching our sales go down.”

    The city will start considering the casino’s financial situation when discussing its 2014-15 budget.

    “Like any new business, there are growing pains and we will adjust every day,” Ruiz said. “We recognize that we have some challenges, and we will address them going forward.”

    Concerning lighting, the site must be turtle-friendly, he noted; also, the property was not designed for valet, due to grant requirements. 

    “We will revisit lots of different things in the future. Now it’s time to stop the bleeding.”

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