Stuart Commissioner Merritt Matheson weighs in on Pelican Cafe lease

Stuart Commissioner Merritt Matheson weighs in on Pelican Cafe lease

I would like to address the recent outcry claiming that the City of Stuart is removing the lease of the Pelican Cafe. Let me start by saying I enjoy taking my family to the Pelican and believe the atmosphere matches Stuart’s charm very well. The establishment is dog-friendly, kid-friendly, well staffed and reasonably priced. However, I do not believe that as an elected official I should be making decisions based on my own personal preferences, particularly when an issue involves residents’ tax dollars.

The message presented by Mr. Daly, the Proprietor, that the Pelican needs to be SAVED is flat out misleading. As I write this, the Pelican safely has another two years on its lease.

The question before me right now is: Should the City rush into signing a renewal early if it may not be the best deal for the taxpayers? I will always listen to the residents. I readily acknowledge that in the most recent referendum regarding the property, voters were overwhelmingly in favor of Stuart negotiating a long-term lease with the “property known as the Pelican Cafe.” The referendum had no terms of the lease, just that we should negotiate one and that the terms of the lease would provide tax relief to taxpayers.

The fact is the City of Stuart has been “seeking a long-term lease with the property known as the Pelican Cafe” since the beginning of 2019. Currently, we have an applicant who has decided to be done negotiating (with 2 years left on the lease); has demanded a vote (prematurely, in the eyes of City staff); and at the same time has started a public campaign falsely stating the Pelican Cafe needs to be “saved” from the City of Stuart.

A major sticking point in the negotiations is a term regarding any potential sale of the Pelican Cafe LLC.

A long-term, fixed-rate lease with the City of Stuart is a highly prized commodity. The owners of a business could potentially earn a tidy profit from securing such a lease and then selling their business. A common way to mitigate this type of deal would be to make any sale of a business leasing land from the City trigger the option for the lease to come back before the commission to adjust the rent to current market value–enhancing the “taxpayer relief” clause.

The owners of the Pelican are adamantly opposed to any language of this type in a lease.

Lease negotiations are typically done with the City Manager, City Attorney and other key staff who negotiate directly with the applicant on specifics. Throughout this time commissioners are kept up to date with constant two way communication with staff. Frequently, as is the case here, commissioners will meet with the applicant to discuss ideas, thoughts and points of view. Keep in mind, while these negotiations are taking place, Sunshine Law is always followed. No commissioners are ever communicating with one another. The City Manager takes separate input from all commissioners and works towards something that he believes will pass a public vote at a scheduled commission meeting. Once this is achieved he places the item on a meeting agenda.

If City staff does not believe the terms have been settled for all parties agree, they may advise further discussions or to let things rest, especially when there is plenty of time on an existing lease. However, if the applicant demands the item be put on a meeting agenda, the City staff may acquiesce and bring the lease before the commission before they view it is ready.

This is where we currently stand in the lease negotiations with the Pelican Cafe.

I have no problem approving a long-term lease if it is fair for residents. I also have no problem with business owners making money off the sale of the reputation and business model they have built. I have a big problem with a business expecting to make a profit off the appreciation of city-owned real estate on the taxpayers’ behalf.

This is just one of many unresolved issues currently being negotiated in the lease. The bottom line is that the new lease with the Pelican Cafe is not at a stage where it should be brought to vote by the commission. I would encourage City of Stuart residents who are concerned about the fate of the Pelican Cafe to question the owners about why they are not more open to accepting lease terms that benefit the true owners of the property–the residents of Stuart. There is still time to make this right. However, rushing an unfinished lease before the commission is not, in my opinion, the solution.

Stuart Commissioner Merritt Matheson

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