Town buys Amore Restaurant, Art & Cultural center gets boost

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The Town of Longboat Key’s plan to build a cultural art center picked up momentum last week with the purchase of Amore Restaurant.

The restaurant and its 2.01 acres sits adjacent to 555 Bay Isles Parkway, which is a 2.8-acre property the town purchased in 2014 to redevelop into a center.

The town agreed to pay owner Howard Rooks $2.2 million and now, with a 5-acre site for a new center, the possibilities of what the Ringling College of Art and Design and the town develop in partnership can only increase in scale.

From the onset of the discussion, Vice Mayor Phill Younger and Commissioner Armando Linde had concerns.

“I’m concerned about taking the property off the taxpayer rolls and a better deal can be made,” said Younger.

Commissioner Ed Zunz said buying the property was the right move and would create a superior site for the future project.

Commissioner George Spoll agreed that the price was high, but said that the specific property afforded the existing property that the town already owns, “a great approach and creates a front door.”

Linde suggested that the commission tell the manager to go back and negotiate.

“I’m for buying it, but we should go back and try to shave off a few hundred thousand dollars,” said Linde.

At this point, Town Manager Dave Bullock said he wouldn’t have put a contract in front of the commission if he thought he could do better. He explained that the contract, which was previously executed by seller Howard Rooks, was the result of lengthy negotiations and that Rooks was clear on the specific timeframes and the amount in the contract.

The commission took a break and then discussion resumed once again. Bullock was instructed to call Rooks during the break and see if there was a lower price to be had. Bullock said that Rooks, “Would like the contract to go forward as it is today.”

Linde immediately said, “Mr. Rooks doesn’t want to compromise, so I’m going to vote ‘No.’”

Mayor Terry Gans said the property would serve the town well, and there are other properties potentially available.

Younger explained that he was very supportive of the plans for a center, but that on principle he felt the price was too high. He added that at the same time he did not want to capitalize on the fact that Commissioner Irwin Pastor was not present and he believed Pastor would have supported the plan. On that note, Younger decided to vote ‘Yes.’

“It makes me sick, but I will vote to go along with this and not stand in the way of what I think would be the will of the commission,” said Younger.

The motion to purchase the restaurant for $2.2 million passed 5-1 with Linde dissenting.

Rooks bought the Amore Restaurant property for $1.2 million a little more than 10 years ago.  After the real estate market collapsed, Rooks held on to and improved the vacant restaurant that has about 250 indoor and outdoor dining seats.

In 2014, Rooks opened Amore Restaurant, which Rooks says he may find a new location to move the restaurant.

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