Federal grant money used to expand an observation deck at Bob Hall Pier may have to be paid back.
That’s because a federal agency learned it’s being used as a restaurant, which isn’t allowed.
For the past five years, Nueces County has leased an observation deck at Bob Hall Pier to the owners of a restaurant called Mikel Mays.
However, in a letter sent to Nueces County officials in February, the U.S. Department of Interior said using a federally-funded structure as a restaurant is not authorized.
That could put a $750,000 grant at risk.
6 Investigates recently obtained a copy of that letter. It said the issue was discovered in December during a routine visit by a federal agency.
Now the county has two options: Close the restaurant or pay back the money.
“This was our mistake and we own that this was our mistake,” said Brent Chesney, Nueces County Commissioner for precinct 4. “But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to remedy the mistake that helps the community.”
What should happen next is a difficult decision, because Chesney said the restaurant helps offset the costs of park operations. Last year, it brought in $121,000, and this year it’s on track to bring in about the same amount.
Just this summer, the county renewed the restaurant’s lease for another five years.
That happened during the same time the county asked if it could pay back the money in installments.
“We sent a letter back in June and said can you just tell us if we can pay you off and how we can do that,” Chesney said. “If we can’t we need to know, so we can make a decision.”
The Department of Interior denied their request, but says the final decision rests with the Department of Justice.
And that’s where the decision is stalled.
Nueces County has asked U.S. Senator John Cornyn for help to resolve the issue. Last week, his office sent the county a letter to say it had contacted the Department of Interior, and are waiting for a response.
For now, the restaurant remains open for business.