Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Pur­sue plans for Bon­net House restau­rant

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“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.

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