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Outback shutters Clearwater Beach location

A lack of customers and construction-related obstacles are blamed for restaurant's demise.

By Mike Donila, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008


Call the Outback Steakhouse on Clearwater Beach and you hear this message: "Sorry mate, this location is now closed."

The Australian-themed chain shut its north Clearwater Beach restaurant Monday, a little more than five years after it opened.

"This particular location no longer works for us," Pete May, joint venture partner of Outback Steakhouse, said in a written statement Thursday. "The closure is a prudent business decision for us at this time."

May said the company will work with the 100 or so employees to relocate them to one of the other company restaurants in the area.

Restaurant officials declined to comment further.

Beach residents and city officials said they were disappointed, but not surprised by the closure. One reason: Despite its location near three large condominium complexes, there weren't enough residents to sustain the restaurant, they say.

"I was one of their good customers and I'm not happy at all," said City Council member Paul Gibson, a real estate agent who lives in the nearby Belle Harbor condo complex and works in Pelican Walk - the same pink strip mall the restaurant once anchored.

The Tampa-based chain inked a deal to open along Mandalay Avenue in August 2002. Officials at the time were banking on a number of condo towers opening and residents flocking to the 225-seat restaurant's doors.

But the restaurant failed to flourish.

Those who ate there regularly said the operation had its highs and lows, but, like a lot of businesses on the beach in recent times, it's mostly been lows.

"They just couldn't make it here," said Sheila Cole, president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce. "There's not enough residents to support the businesses here - that's why we need the tourists. We forever said that was the only Outback that never had a line a mile long outside its doors."

Although the restaurant is near the condo developments, none are filled with full-time residents. In fact, most of the 472 condos available in the Mandalay Beach Club, Belle Harbor and the Sandpearl are owned by part-time residents or speculators who failed to sell off the units and do not live in them.

Cole and Gibson both said recent construction on the BeachWalk promenade eliminated hundreds of parking spaces on the south end of the beach and clogged the streets, which also probably contributed to the demise of the 6,500-square-foot restaurant.

"People don't come here because they know of the parking problem ... and construction is a deterrent, so if they can put up with the traffic, then there's no place to park," Gibson said. "And there's not enough people here physically because there's only one large hotel and the other large ones haven't been built. Those are potential customers and they're not here yet."

The city's director of economic development, Geri Lopez, said she didn't believe "word ever fully got out that they were there."

"It wasn't a signature destination point," she said, comparing it to local landmarks like Bob Heilman's Beachcomber and the Island Way Grille.

Still, the business outlook on the beach is not all doom and gloom. The BeachWalk, with its spiraling walkways, is almost finished and a major hotel, the Aqualea, is a few years away from completion. City leaders also are trying to work out a deal to build a parking garage on the beach.

"We're definitely going to make it out here ... and we'll be a whole new destination," said Cole, adding that she suspects another restaurant will one day replace Outback.

What was said

Statement from Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse has closed its Clearwater Beach restaurant. According to Pete May, joint venture partner of Outback Steakhouse in the Tampa Bay area, the decision to close is based on the changing dynamics within the commercial environment surrounding the restaurant.

"This particular location no longer works for us," May said. "The closure is a prudent business decision for us at this time. We welcome the opportunity to continue to serve our loyal Clearwater Beach customers at our Largo and Palm Harbor restaurants.

"On behalf of all of us at the restaurant, we want to express our appreciation to the Clearwater Beach community for their patronage over the past five years," May added.

[Last modified February 22, 2008, 06:36:32]

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