Pier restaurant still a distant dream

Canarsie residents shouldn’t expect a restaurant — or any other business — to open up in the long-vacant building on Canarsie Pier anytime soon.

Last month, the National Park Service took the first steps toward leasing the site, which has been shuttered since 2002, when it issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to gauge the building’s appeal to developers.

But, response has been limited — only two possible concessionaires showed up for the first of two tours of the building’s interior on Friday — and the pier itself may need to undergo significant renovation before any work on the building could start, representatives of Gateway National Recreation Area told those who came to get an inside look.

The problems are manifold. The Army Corps of Engineers recommended a thorough examination of the pier’s pilings and undercarriage following a recent visual inspection, said Barbara Repeta, a business management specialist with Gateway.

It’s not certain how extensive any damage is; that would be revealed after divers “go down and look at the condition of the pilings,” she added, noting that, “The park hasn’t decided whether the pier construction would have to be done before anything can be done with the building.”

In addition, there’s the question of whether the cost of renovating the building, which is in extreme disrepair, would make starting up a new business there economically feasible, Repeta said. Gateway had estimated in 2006 that it would cost $2.5 million to ready the building to house a non-food concession, and $3.9 million to prepare it to become some sort of restaurant.

Finally, said Repeta, the park is still in the midst of developing its general management plan, an exercise that is performed every decade, and administrators are hoping that the ideas they glean from respondents to the RFEI will help shape that long-range plan which should be finished in about two years.

“What we’re doing is trying to collect ideas,” Repeta explained. “We are not using this as a vehicle to put out a Request for Proposals or solicit a contract. It’s not going to move that fast.”

If someone is sufficiently interested in coughing up the money needed to fix the building, that would be great, Repeta said; if not, the Park Service would have to determine whether “it’s economically feasible for us to fix it up.

“Even though we’re a government agency, we’re not getting a lot of stimulus money for things like that,” Repeta added. “Appropriations have to be justified, and it’s hard to justify. The past couple of concessionaires failed financially.”

Nonetheless, the restaurateurs who toured the dilapidated restaurant said they saw possibilities there.

John Mavrikis, who owns the Lindenwood Diner on Linden Boulevard and has spent 40 years in the restaurant business, said he thought the spot was ideal for a “family style restaurant with casual dining” on the pier. The idea of spending $3 million or more to rehabilitate the building didn’t faze him, “because we would do a very good business here,” he said.

Bob Leckie, who owns the Wharf Bar and Grill in Rockaway Beach, said he could see a multi-faceted business on the pier. “I could envision a bait and tackle shop along with a restaurant and a snack bar, perhaps boat rentals, but it would need to be community-oriented,” he said.

Jonathan O’Leary, who had come along to advise Leckie on construction issues, said that he thought such a business could succeed on the pier, despite the expenses of restoring the building. “If we didn’t think so, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

In the meantime, residents are holding their breaths. Neal Duncan, the president of the United Canarsie South Civic Association, said that the community has been disappointed before when there has been some attention paid to the pier and its empty building, only to have their hopes dashed.

“It’s a beautiful location, a wonderful situation to have something thriving,” he said.

“Something should be there,” Duncan went on. “My concern is that, whatever is being done, we have the momentum now, and we should consider putting something there that would be permanent, so we won’t be revisiting this two or three years down the line.”

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