Gardens restaurant facing final Council vote for approval

Gone are the days of parrots riding unicycles on wires, busloads of tourists and cafeteria-style dining in Parrot Jungle, the historic tourist attraction that once occupied the space where Pinecrest Gardens is located today.

Pinecrest Gardens has grown into a premier venue for the arts, education and environmental conservation and preservation over the last decade. It offers year-round programming that attracts over 150,000 visitors each year. On any given day, you can watch an arts performance, tour the 14 acres of native forested wetland tropical hardwood hammock and native cypress slough hammock or take a class in horticulture, archeology and botany.

Education programs at the Gardens are even helping children with autism through the Butterfly Garden Autism Program where children plant and nurture butterfly gardens. Also, sensory friendly tours and a theater group tailored for children with special needs are in development.

To further solidify Pinecrest Gardens’ relevance to the community, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, making it historically significant on a local, state and national platform. Yet there is something missing.

Both residents and council members have expressed the need for a casual dining facility in Pinecrest Gardens, and the Village Council is set to vote soon on whether to approve building a restaurant in the Gardens. Scott Silver, a managing member of Pinecrest Gardens, has proposed building a restaurant with a “home away from home” feel where friends and families would be able to congregate at the end of the school day or after a morning workout.

“We are looking to create an environment that complements Pinecrest Gardens with farm-fresh, locally produced dining,” said Silver, who handles legal, business, finance and government relations for the Gardens.“We want to give the neighbors a local, reasonably priced dining option.”

Breakfast and lunch entrees will start at $4 and $7, and dinner entrees will start at $12. There will be early dining specials and children’s menus. The proposed restaurant would offer American/ Continental cuisine and have an Old Florida motif reminiscent of The Tea Room in Cauley Square or Peacock Café in Coconut Grove. The restaurant would seat 160, including seating in a new outdoor deck.

Mayor Cindy Lerner and the Village Council have devoted more than a yearand- a-half to developing guidelines critical to assuring the new restaurant would be compatible and complimentary to both the environmental and cultural aspects of Pinecrest Gardens, as well as, the needs of nearby neighbors.

“We are lucky to have a successful local restaurateur respond to our proposal and I am thoroughly confident that the lease agreement reached protects the Village,” said Lerner. “After all the time we have taken to get this right, I believe it is as good a deal as we will get.”

The revenue generated from the restaurant will be used solely to offset the cost of operating Pinecrest Gardens, which costs Village taxpayers approximately $1.7 million per year. The lease amount paid by the restaurant for the first year will be $122,000, with the amount increasing by two percent each year thereafter. In addition, the Village would receive six percent of the gross revenues over the base rent starting the second year.

A survey of Village residents conducted in January 2010 reported that more than 70 percent of those surveyed were in support of restoring the former Parrot Jungle cafeteria in what is now called Cypress Hall. A Village-wide election on Nov. 6, 2012 further confirmed residents’ desire for a restaurant when 62 percent of voters approved a measure that would exclude food service leases in Cypress Hall from the five-year maximum lease restriction.

Silver has proposed renovating Cypress Hall, which was gutted after damage from Hurricane Wilma rendered the 4,740 square-foot room inoperable. The renovation is estimated to cost $1.1 million and would include interior build-out and finishes, impact resistant windows, restroom build-out, furniture, exterior lighting, non-kitchen equipment and kitchen build-out including equipment.

The Village would pay half of the cost, matching up to $550,000, and will perform necessary site improvements that include the relocation of the existing ticket booth and ATM machine. It will renovate the drop-off area and circular drive, upgrade the septic capacity and build a 770-square-foot exterior deck.

In accordance with the proposed lease agreement, should the restaurant not be successful, the Village would be left with the built out space including all furniture, fixtures and equipment.

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