News6 Investigates

Actions

County considers a deal with a charity to keep popular pier eatery

Posted at 1:38 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-28 15:51:56-04

Nueces County leaders may have an option to pay their way out of a costly mistake.

The Ed Rachel Foundation is now involved in discussions to keep a popular restaurant on Bob Hall Pier where it never should have opened.

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales will meet with leaders of the foundation to find out if they could help re-pay a $750,000 grant back to the federal government, so the county could keep the restaurant open. During a meeting Wednesday morning, she asked county commissioners for their support.

“We have a lead, if you will, to be able to go to the Ed Rachel Foundation and pursue a creative approach,” Canales said, during the meeting “We don’t know what that is.”

The foundation has the money the county needs, but is not willing to part with it without an agreement, said Paul Altheide, CEO of the Ed Rachel Foundation, in a phone call after the meeting. He didn’t provide specifics, but he described it as a loan that would involve a long-term lease.

“We’re not trying to get one over on the county, we’re trying to give them an easy way out,” Altheide said. “Our interest is in the community and we like the concept of having a restaurant and a pier, and think it will attract more people than just having an observation deck.”

As 6 Investigates first reported, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife discovered the county had leased an observation deck to Mikel May’s during a visit in December 2017. The county built the observation deck using federal grant funds. As a part of the agreement, the deck has to remain open to the public. A restaurant violates that agreement. In a letter sent to county leaders early last year, the federal government laid out two options: either close the restaurant or re-pay the federal grant.

It hasn’t been an easy decision for commissioners who last year renewed a 5-year lease with Mikel May’s to run a full-service restaurant. The eatery has become a popular tourist spot and a money maker for the county. Last year the restaurant brought $12,000 a month in revenue to the county, which Commissioner Brent Chesney said offsets the maintenance costs of operating the pier.

He described the potential deal with the foundation as a new alternative.

“If we’ve got a third door that we could look at to save Mikel May’s that would be great,” Chesney said, after the meeting. “That might be too simple or naive to think we can do it but i applaud (Judge Canales) for trying.”

Out on the island, Venus Killian who had just finished lunch with friends from San Antonio said she’s a regular customer of Mikel May’s because of the food and the location.

“It looks so amazing now. They’ve put so much into it, and for them to close it would be the worst thing they could do. I mean we’ve got people who come out of town, just for this.”