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    Restaurant on the bay calls it a day

    The Waterfront Lodge, private club turned buffet spot, closed after Easter dinner. It and the building next door sit empty.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Hardy Huntley bought the restaurant building for $1.7-million in 1997. He wouldn't disclose the asking price for the 11,000-square-foot restaurant.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- The sign reads: "Closed. Gone Fishing."

    But Hardy Huntley, owner of the Waterfront Lodge, a 250-seat restaurant bordering Boca Ciega Bay, didn't put the place up for sale so he could fish.

    "I just want to do something else," Huntley said Wednesday while workers cleaned an unloading area in the back of the restaurant at 8800 Bay Pines Blvd.

    "It was fun," said Huntley, owner of Gunn Highway Flea Market in Odessa and Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park. "We thought we'd try something different."

    The Waterfront Lodge closed Sunday, after serving Easter dinner to more than 150 patrons. Also vacant is the restaurant next door, a wooden building at 8790 Bay Pines Blvd., that once housed a Joe's Crab Shack.

    "It's sad," said Garry Lane, who worked as a chef at the Waterfront Lodge for a year and a half. "Just getting ready for a big buffet every night was something I really liked."

    Huntley bought the restaurant for $1.7-million in 1997. He operated it as a private dinner club until last year, when he opened to the public and offered all-you-can-eat buffet dinners.

    Huntley wouldn't disclose his asking price for the 11,000-square-foot restaurant, which he plans to sell fully equipped. The Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office valued it for tax purposes at $1,371,400 last year. Assessed values are generally about 85 percent of market value.

    "The real value is the real estate rather than operating it as a restaurant," said Michael Seimetz, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Commercial in St. Pete Beach.

    Both properties, which are in unincorporated Pinellas County, are zoned for commercial retail, said Pete Lenseth, a development review specialist for the county.

    Anything retail, including a theater, an office building or a hotel, could be put there, Lenseth said.

    In order to build residences, the County Commission would have to approve changes in the properties' zoning and land-use designations.

    "It is a beautiful site for something like that," Seimetz said. "In fact, it may be a better site for that than a restaurant."

    Both restaurants are on the south side of Bay Pines Boulevard, just east of a bridge over Cross Bayou that connects the Bay Pines and Tyrone communities.

    Perhaps there is too much competition in the area for the two establishments to survive. Five restaurants, including Outback Steakhouse and Hops Restaurant, are less than a mile away.

    The Waterfront Lodge was built in 1977, said Jack Tipton, assistant director of the county's Building Department. Since then it has housed a number of restaurants, including a Leverock's.

    The building that housed Joe's Crab Shack opened in April 1997. It closed less than two years later.

    The 7,400-square-foot restaurant is owned by Landry's Seafood Restaurant Inc. of Houston, a national seafood chain that operates 120 restaurants in 26 states.

    Company officials did not return phone calls Wednesday.

    - Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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