Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Pursue plans for Bonnet House restaurant
“Trying to raise a six-figure gift for sewer repairs. That’s a tough sell.”
Patrick Shavloske, the estate’s director of development and legal counsel
An onsite restaurant at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens? There could be worse options to keep the historic estate from sliding further into financial difficulty. The idea is in its early stages, but it is a viable strategy that park officials should be encouraged to pursue.
Tours, donations and planned giving aren’t enough to cover the iconic park’s normal operating expenses and the looming capital projects that will cost millions. Thus, Bonnet House officials want to open a restaurant and use the money from the lease to pay for major park upgrades.
Last month, park officials announced their intent to apply for a federal permit to build a 427-seat restaurant and a four-slip dock along the Intracoastal. They have a restaurateur willing to build the facility and pay the Bonnet House the money needed for improvements.
The idea is encouraging since the waterfront property, once owned by Fort Lauderdale pioneer Hugh Taylor Birch, needs specialized care and upkeep to attract its 70,000 visitors a year. Unfortunately, the proposal has prompted its share of criticism — much of it premature.
Nearby residents worry a restaurant will disrupt the estate and the surrounding area. There will be plenty of time for debate about the restaurant’s size and access. Too much time, really. A decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as state and local environmental agencies, is years off. This, as park officials struggle to keep this treasured jewel shining.
For example, the Bonnet House’s cedarshake roof is showing signs of wear. Deteri- orating concrete in parts of the house is also a concern. The park also must upgrade its aging sewer system, replace its boathouse pylons, add new bathrooms and update climate-control units.
The park had relied on state grants for its capital projects, but as of late, Tallahassee has become a less-reliable partner. Last year, the Bonnet House & Gardens received $150,000. This year, Gov. Rick Scott put no money in his budget for arts and cultural grants or for historic preservation.
The Florida Legislature didn’t help as state lawmakers failed to add money to help cultural organizations with historic preservation grants, and that was before the big blowup over health care left programs that rely on such funding even further in a lurch.
Park officials say they are trying to be good stewards in addressing ongoing needs. The typical means of asking donors to raise funds for capital projects, they say, won’t work.
“Trying to raise a six-figure gift for sewer repairs,” said Patrick Shavloske, the estate’s director of development and legal counsel. “That’s a tough sell.”
Fortunately, the original owners of Bonnet House were insistent upon preserving the estate to the point of amending the property deed to allow for a restaurant if the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation “exhausted all other reasonably available means of raising funds.”
Estate officials have the means to raise new revenue for capital projects. Given the needs of the estate, they should pursue it.