By Mary Thurwachter
The lease isn’t up for three more years, but Dune Deck Café owner John Caruso was able to persuade the Lantana Town Council to extend the popular beach restaurant’s contract until 2022.
“It’s important for us to have that security,” he said at the Oct. 13 council meeting. “It’s a family business, and repairs are always needed.”
Caruso agreed to pay more rent, $40,000 a year or about $20 a square foot — a fair market price, according to a rental market analysis the town paid appraisers at Anderson & Carr to complete. He had been paying about $30,000 plus sales tax.
Caruso will continue to pay taxes, but will also pay for water and garbage. He said he plans to add restrooms, as well. Currently, his patrons have to use the public restrooms at Lantana Beach.
“This (lack of restrooms) has been an inconvenience and a major complaint,” Caruso said when he appeared before the Lantana Town Council on Oct. 13.
This wasn’t Caruso’s first attempt to get the town to commit to extending his lease early. He appeared before the council a year ago asking for a contract extension, even though the lease is good until the end of 2017.
At that time, Mayor Dave Stewart said he felt the current rent was too low and not in line with what other restaurants are paying for similar space. Stewart said then he thought the town should issue a formal Request for Proposals. The council directed Caruso to meet with Town Manager Deborah Manzo to negotiate an agreement to present to the council before it made a decision about going out for RFPs.
The two met three times since and came up with the $40,000-a-year price.
While the council voted for the lease renewal last month, not everyone thought it was a good idea.
“I really think we did the residents a disservice by not putting it out on RFPs,” said Stewart, who was alone in voting against the early lease renewal. “It’s not personal, John, I love the restaurant,” Stewart said to Caurso. “You’ve had 22 years over there. I don’t feel it’s responsible for the council if we don’t put it out on RFPs.”
But Vice Mayor Lynn Moorhouse said keeping a restaurateur that has been successful for 22 years rather than taking a chance on some unknown business would better serve the town.
Stewart said he was also concerned that the Palm Beach County Inspector General would have problems with the town for not putting the lease out for bids. But Max Lohman, the town’s attorney, said he didn’t feel that would become an issue in this case.
Support for the Dune Deck was evident through statements from a variety of meeting-goers, from residents who said the restaurant was a community gem that attracts customers from all over the globe, to a priest who said the Dune Deck was one of the reasons he took a job at his church.
Others said the lease needed to go out for bids.
“I want to make sure we get a fair price,” said Erica Wald of Hypoluxo Island.
In other action, the town recognized its Police Department for receiving accreditation by complying with 260 standards, many that are critical to life, health and safety issues.
“Accreditation (from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement) is a highly prized recognition of law enforcement professional excellence,” Police Chief Sean Scheller said.
The accreditation program manager for the Lantana police was Officer Nelson Berrios.
By Mary Thurwachter