New estimates to fix the back area of the building where Crab E Bills leases inside Fisherman’s Landing have soared to $140,000. In addition, there are growing concerns that the soil under the foundation isn’t stable enough to make the repairs.
Last month, the City Council authorized $50,000 to make the needed repairs to the building.
On Wednesday, City Manager Paul Carlisle returned to the council to ask for $140,000 but faced opposition. The consensus among the city council members is that spending $140,000 in tax dollars would be irresponsible since it’s not a permanent fix for the building.
“I need some direction from council on which way you want me to go because I can continue this, but that number is not going to be the end,” Carlisle told the council.
Councilman Chris Nunn felt it was too costly for something that’s not a permanent fix. He was worried about opening the roof and the potential of more problems uncovered along with costs. He’s also concerned that making these repairs will be like “opening a can of worms” that could potentially close down Crab E Bills.
“That’s a lot of money to spend for not a lot of gain,” Nunn said.
Carlisle said the soil underneath the back area of the building is unstable, and therefore 30-foot helical piles would be needed to be installed from the roof and into the ground. In addition, more beams are needed to support the current beams with steel anchors.
One of the contractors told Carlisle, “we don’t know what we’re going to find when we actually get in there and start the work,” indicating that there could be additional costs as they begin opening up other areas of the 100-year-old building.
“We still have to be fiscally responsible here in the city in our position, and it was difficult for me, first of all, to take $50,000 of taxpayers’ money to fix up one business. I don’t think I can support anything going forward with that,” Vice Mayor Fred Jones said.
Councilman Ed Dodd was concerned about the growing cost of fixing the building and feared the city would continue to spend more on other things needing repairs.
“The ultimate solution to this, which I know we’ve had a hard time discussing, is to move the restaurant (Crab E Bills) out of there and fix the building completely the way it needs to be done,” Dodd said.
But Dodd also suggested waiting until the lease with Crab E Bills expires and doing what they need to do with repairs. In addition, he made a recommendation that the city notifies the fish market immediately.
“We have to just draw the line and do it. It’s not going to be popular. It’s a great fish house, they have a great chef, and they make a great fish sandwich, but we have no choice in the city,” Dodd said.
Jones agreed, saying going forward and spending the $140,000 would be fiscally irresponsible.
Councilman Bob McPartlan also agreed and wants to decide what to do with the building at the end of the lease period. McPartlan said there’s no way of conducting restoration with a business currently operating in the building.
“I agree with Mr. Dodd, we need to make it to the end of this lease period, and decisions need to be made,” McPartland said.
The council decided to keep the back area closed and allow Crab E Bills to continue doing business until their lease period expires in 2024. The city is sending a letter to notify Crab E Bills.
Crab E Bills Seeks $119k for Losses
If the city agrees to compensate Crab E Bills for alleged losses in income, it will be City of Sebastian taxpayers’ money.
When the back portion of the building became an issue in November 2021, the city closed it off at the advice of their insurance company due to safety concerns.
The city moved tables elsewhere in the building, increased the Crab E Bills seating capacity from 34 to 46, and doubled its rental space from 512 square feet to 1,140 square feet while keeping the original lease agreement of $3,000 per month.
Shown below is a map of the building. The red areas denote the area closed off, but the blue regions show the square footage Crab E Bills gained after the city closed the back portion of the building. In total, their leasing space more than doubled.
The seafood market and eatery have remained open the entire time. Last month, the business was seeking $90,000 in losses, but as of last Friday, Crab E Bills is now seeking $119,000.
Saving the Building
The city appears to be doing all it can to save the building, and it’s not a popular idea among many residents to tear down the failing structure. But if the city chooses to do it, it will not violate the terms of the grant. City officials will make a decIsion after the lease expires.
Before the city purchased the property and building, the structure sat vacant for many years, with weeds and vegetation growing over it with no concerns from citizens.
But since it’s been a fish market for almost eight years, some Sebastian residents want the building saved at all costs.
The building has a long history of multiple tenants over time and has never met the criteria to be named historic. Over time, it was a warehouse, automobile shop, restaurant, bar, and many other things. Many times it just sat empty over the years.
When the city purchased the property about a decade ago, they did so to preserve the working waterfront, just as they have with Harbor Lights Motel to safeguard the land next to the Main Street boat ramp.
Fisherman’s Landing, under the Stan Mayfield Working Waterfront Grant, is to be used to promote fishing. But, questions arise on whether the building has served its use after 100 years.