In less than two weeks of operation, the new Ford's Boathouse Tiki Bar & Grill at the Cape Coral Yacht Club fishing pier has packed curious customers into the establishment for their dining pleasure and rave reviews.
On the outside, the parking plan has stirred up a hornet's nest of confusion and consternation among all Yacht Club and beaching visitors with its pay-to-park valet service.
The situation was talked about at the City Council meeting Monday night as officials try to address the concerns of citizens inconvenienced by the parking options.
Kearns Restaurant Group VP/co-founder Zak Kearns wishes to be as proactive as possible in easing tensions.
"The valet service is not strictly for our business, but all visitors can use the service," said Kearns. "We saw valet as an immediate fix because we could use 42 spaces to park 84 cars using the service. We have assumed the cost of the service. We are not trying to privatize the public parking. If you are a mom with three kids in a minivan and all that beach gear you can use the valet service to make your visit better."
Parks & Recreation director Steve Pohlman updated council on measures already taken and those he is considering making soon.
"We realized we would have parking issues from the start," said Pohlman. "We've met with the Boathouse proprietor to work out some things. This is a six-week trial for the valet service and it is available to anyone who wants to use it. With the many functions and facilities at the Yacht Club there have been parking issues for a long time. We looked at the valet parking to keep costs down and provide 50 more spaces."
Pohlman said the city recently re-striped most if not all of the parking spaces at the facility, except for handicap spaces which remain the same; none were relocated. All handicap spaces remain free to the public, including the one in the valet parking area. Many 10-foot wide spaces were reduced to nine feet in the pavilion area.
"We could have gone to eight feet, but older people sometimes need to open their doors wider to get in and out," he said.
Ten single-axel boat trailer parking spaces at the marina basin are being moved to the large trailer parking space north of the tennis courts, combining the city trailer spaces to hold 49 trailers and make room for some cars at the basin closer to the pool and Tony Rotino Center.
"After 5 p.m. if the lot is full people can go to the trailer parking area north of the tennis court to use a new area," said Pohlman. "We worked with public works and engineers to add a total of 44 spaces at the Yacht Club by re-striping and creating that new area at the trailer lot. We now have 400 parking spaces at the club."
Pohlman also said that the valet spaces are available to the public after 10 p.m. when the Boathouse closes and he would work with the restaurant to make sure that area is not roped off. The valet service runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The service charged $3 per car on weekdays and $5 per car on the weekend.
The arthritis class at the pool, which raised initial complaints when the Boathouse opened on May 22, hobby club and other senior users of the facilities can use all parking spaces before the valet service begins at 11 a.m.
"Some people like valet parking because they can park close," said Pohlman. "It's convenient for moms with kids going to the beach. The Boathouse is paying the valet service $630 a week. Putting the valet service in another area would require a golf cart type of shuttle service and that comes with more cost."
Kearns said he was meeting with city officials Tuesday afternoon on the parking situation.
"I'm open to how to make it better, to improve parking and make it work," said Kearns. "I'm open to suggestions. I think it is a positive amenity for the Yacht Club. We've created more parking spaces. We want to be good neighbors and don't want the uproar. Business has been phenomenal so far. It's a labor of love. We have a profit sharing deal with the city, so the better we do the more the city gets."
Six people stepped to the podium to address council, sharing their experiences and displeasure about having to pay to park at the Yacht Club where it has been free for many years, especially for those on fixed incomes. Long walks for elderly or physically challenged visitors, they said, are unfair.
One suggested to relocate the Rotino Center and perhaps demolish the building for more parking.
Having a full liquor bar at the pier also came into question as a parent on the beach might be hesitant to give their kids a couple of bucks to go to a full liquor bar for a snack, or a drink, or a treat. Some said it seemed to make more sense to add a tiki hut away from the Boathouse for that purpose.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell asked for everyone's patience during the six-week trial process.
"We knew we would have issues," Donnell said. "We anticipated it. We will work through it. The elephant in the room is the valet parking, and it doesn't sit well."
Pohlman, too, asked for patience as he continues to work with the restaurant and others on ideas for solutions.