By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer
BRADENTON BEACH – The owners of the Gulf Drive Café have drawn up preliminary plans for expanding the restaurant and developing the beachfront property south of there for condominiums.
According to architect Mike McCaleb, the plans call for four 6-unit condos south of where the old Trader Jack’s restaurant once stood and across the street from the Green Turtle souvenir shop. McCaleb said the plans are preliminary and if there is an underlying zoning that does not allow multi-unit residential, the owners won’t build the units.
The plans are being submitted to the Bradenton Beach Building Department as a major development. If it meets the codes, the city’s planning and zoning board would view the plans and decide whether to recommend its approval to the city commission.
McCaleb said the plans also call for expanding the restaurant to the south along the beach in an old Florida, cypress, tiki hut design to provide more beachfront dining. The expansion would bring the number of seats from around 90 now to 240.
McCaleb said some of the parking to the south of the restaurant would be lost, but the property owners, George and Wendy Kokolis, would develop a parcel of land they own on the east side of Gulf Drive south of the lot they are presently developing. In all, the plans call for a total of 111 parking spaces for the restaurant. There would be 13 spaces next to the restaurant, three of those spaces would be for handicapped.
McCaleb said the Kokolises plan to dedicate a strip of land south of the condos to the city with a dune walkover and access to the beach where the molasses barge Regina is located. The wreck is a popular dive spot and is certified as a Florida underwater preserve.
The Kokolises have owned the property for more than a decade, but leased the restaurant to Tom and Spiro Chipain because they owned and operated a restaurant in Virginia. They sold that facility and moved to Manatee County more than two years ago and took over the Gulf Drive Café. They agreed to develop the lot across the street for parking because the Chipains developed the lot that was used for restaurant parking.
The Kokolises got into a feud with the city, however, when they decided not to develop the lot the way the city wanted them to and because they were allowing people to park on the beachfront property south of the restaurant. The city cited them for code enforcement violations and imposed fines and the Kokolises retaliated by suing the city.
The suit was settled out of court, the parking lot has been developed and the beachfront property has been fenced off to prohibit parking.
During that dispute, the Kokolises put the land on the market for an asking price of $25,000,000.