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This time, it could be last call for Pelican Diner

By JOHN REINAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 20, 2002

ST. PETE BEACH -- For the second time in less than a year, the historic Pelican Diner is facing the wrecking ball.

Last summer, a pair of local businessmen stepped in to keep the stainless-steel landmark operating at 75th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard after its longtime owners retired.

But their stewardship of the eatery was short-lived. The Pelican closed again at the end of January, and now its current owner may be only a week or two away from signing a deal to develop the valuable land on which the diner sits.

That could mean the end of the Pelican, which was built in New Jersey in 1951 and shipped to St. Pete Beach, where for half a century it served up coffee and grub to night owls, early birds and the tourist trade.

"Its days may be numbered," said Michael Seimetz, a broker salesman for Coldwell Banker Commercial who is marketing the property. "The owner is leaving all options open."

Seimetz said the asking price is $450,000 for the diner and the lot, which measures 100 feet by 107 feet. With the diner removed, he said, the lot could hold two or even three retail tenants in a new building.

"We are in discussions with two national chains," he said. "They are names you would recognize, very top-drawer. The beach would be happy to have them."

Pelican owner George Calomiris, who bought the diner last year from Ziggy and Helen Radvil, said he appreciates the attachment people have to the old place.

If a suitable recipient can be found, Calomiris said, he'd be willing to make a gift of the building.

"I have talked to a couple of city officials about possibly donating the diner to the city of St. Pete Beach and letting them use the facility in another site," he said. "If I can donate the structure, I'd be happy to do it."

But donating the Pelican to the city wouldn't necessarily be a good idea, said a leading historian of American diners.

Daniel Zilka, director of the American Diner Museum in Providence, R.I., said government bodies usually aren't equipped to handle the restoration and care of the quirky old structures.

A better idea, Zilka said, would be for Calomiris to donate the diner to the museum. Calomiris would get a tax break, and the museum would resell the building to someone who wants to take good care of it.

Ideally, that would be a local person. But if nobody wants to keep the diner here, there are others eager to snatch it up.

"We've gotten calls from people who want to buy American diners and ship them to Europe," Zilka said. "There's tremendous interest in these old diners."

But is there interest in the town where the Pelican thrived for 50 years? Zilka hopes so.

"You've got to say, 'We like the diner and we want to see it stay,' because there's nothing else like it," Zilka said.

"How many Dunkin' Donuts do you need in a town? We're losing our history."

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