Mark McDermott

Tony’s on the Pier agrees to lease extension with Redondo Beach

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A rendering of the Old Tony’s redesign of the famed “crow’s nest.” The design will include a thatch roof and the use of surfboards above the bar. Rendering by Restaurant Design International

Tony’s on the Pier is staying on the Redondo Beach pier for at least two more years and likely the next 40.

The Trutanich family, owners of the iconic pier restaurant, last week agreed to enter into a two-year lease extension with the city of Redondo Beach and unveiled plans for renovation that would solidify Tony’s place on the pier until the middle of the century.

Tony Trutanich Jr. said he and his brother Michael feel confident that the two-year lease is a precursor to a long-term lease. His goal, he said, is to lease through 2052 – the restaurant’s 100-year anniversary – when he envisions his son at the helm of what is already the oldest eatery in the South Bay.

“I want Tony the third to be there when it’s 100,” Trutanich said.

Pete Carmichael, the city’s harbor, business, and transit director, said the city also hopes to keep Tony’s long-term.

“We’ve always felt they are an icon,” Carmichael said. “People love Tony’s. It’s been home at the pier for a long time, and we want to do everything we can to keep that up.”

“Tony’s isn’t going anywhere,” said Councilman Steve Aspel. “It’s a pier landmark.”

The city is in the process of consolidating leaseholds on the pier, the pier plaza (or “upper pier”) and the International Boardwalk in hopes of luring a top-shelf developer – someone of the stature of Rick Caruso, who developed the Grove in Los Angeles – through a request for proposal (RFP) process. As a result, many businesses on the pier are operating on month-to-month leases in order to give prospective developers maximum flexibility.

Old Tony's

Tony's on the Pier. Photo by Amy Theilig/amytphoto.com

Tony’s existing lease expires in February. Last May, the restaurant’s tenuous lease situation sparked public outcry. Supporters created a “Save Tony’s on the Pier” Facebook page that attracted hundreds of followers, several of which attended City Council meetings to argue for a lease extension.

Carmichael, City Manager Bill Workman, and Councilmen Steve Aspel and Pat Aust have negotiated with the Trutanich family since May. According to Aspel, the key to an extension was the family’s willingness to make a significant reinvestment in the leasehold.

“We told them they had to come up with some real plans for a really good upgrade so they would be the first in line when we have a new master leaseholder – it couldn’t be something drawn on a bar napkin,” Aspel said. “And they did – Tony got an ace architectural design firm and came in last Wednesday with serious plans.”

“I am impressed with what the Trutanich family did,” said Aust. “They really made a commitment.”

Although there is no guarantee of a long-term lease – that will ultimately be up to whoever becomes the new master leaseholder – Trutanich said he believes that the City Council and city manager will help insure that Tony’s is a part of the pier’s future.

“I feel really good about it,” he said. “I have always had faith in those guys. They are doing the right things. I have even more faith in them now.”

“I think they have a good shot at being a long-term tenant,” Aust said. “Tony’s is a brand that has been established over 60 years of being there – I think, whoever the new master leaseholder will be, they would want to give them a long-term lease.”

Trutanich said that his family is willing to invest more than $1 million into Tony’s. “The longer the lease, the more we are willing to invest,” he said.

The new plans include a glass-bottomed floor that looks down into the ocean and a lift that will allow disabled people to go to the famed, second-floor “crow’s nest” cocktail bar at Tony’s. The unique, octagon shaped building was designed by Tony Trutanich, the family patriarch known affectionately in the community as “the pier godfather” before his passing five years ago. The restaurant came to be called “Old Tony’s” in the late 1960s when a new, larger Tony’s on the Pier restaurant was built across the way on the pier (in the leasehold where Maison Riz is now).

Trutanich said the original design will remain intact.

“It’ll still have that nostalgic feeling,” he said. “It’ll still be Old Tony’s, it just won’t be old.”

On Tuesday, other pier businesses in the same section of the pier as Tony’s were also offered two-year lease extensions. Those businesses include such mainstays as Shark Attack, which has been on the pier four decades, and Starboard Attitude, which has been on the pier for more than two decades.

Starboard Attitude manager Trinity Keeney said that the city’s offer is in essence a one-year lease with a non-guaranteed second year. She said the extension is an improvement to Starboard Attitude’s current month-to-month lease, but still leaves the long-term future clouded with uncertainty.

“Something is better than nothing, but it doesn’t give business owners the ability to reinvest in their businesses,” she said. “That is the downside, for sure. There may be hope for the future, but it all depends on the city getting [a new master leaseholder]. I mean, everything is so up in the air. It’s really hard to take. I don’t know anyone down here who wants to leave the pier. We certainly don’t want to leave.”

But Keeney praised the city’s vast improvement in communicating with pier businesses since the arrival of Carmichael as harbor director last year, as well as its recent commitment to spend $2 million on improvements on the pier.

“We do feel better because at least there is an ongoing line of communication that did not exist before,” Keeney said. “…And there really is some positive momentum and some real change happening. We are all grateful for that.”

City Manager Bill Workman said the city hopes to have selected a new master leaseholder by July 1. The city is currently negotiating the purchase of both the International Boardwalk leasehold and the Pier Plaza leasehold. The two large leaseholds, which the city is reportedly spending $10.5 million to acquire, will be packaged along with available smaller leaseholds on the pier to give a developer the opportunity to make large scale changes to the entire area.

Workman said he looks at one of the pier area’s chief competitors in the Southern California tourism market, Disney, as a benchmark of sorts. Disney’s California Adventure theme park even has a pier, albeit an artificial one. The city manager said a new, upgraded pier would become a strong tourism draw.

“Our pier is genuine,” he said. “What we are offering is real – real smells, real tastes, real people. There are no plastic characters. We have real characters.”

Workman said the city’s harbor and pier revitalization efforts are gaining momentum. He pointed to the new $20 million Shade Hotel, a project that will break ground in the coming year, as well as the recently launched “Pier Landing,” a multimillion dollar reconfiguring of the front of the pier by leaseholder Robert Resnick. These investments will attract more investments, Workman said.

“Investors will be able to come to Redondo Beach and make a profit and turn around one of the community’s assets,” Workman said. “It’s really exciting, something we have had as part of our vision for a long time now. And it’s all coming together.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Carmichael said. “It’s going to take several years. But it’s great to have the ball rolling in a meaningful way.”

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