For more than two years, the brightly painted former Doc’s Cantina has sat empty, a stark contrast to the bustling restaurants across the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville and reminder of income that isn’t flowing into Waterfront Development Corp.’s coffers.
However, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. WDC’s president David Karem told Insider Louisville that the organization, which oversees Waterfront Park operations, expects to make an announcement next week that they have come to an agreement with the owner of Doc’s Cantina, the Falls City Hospitality Group, which will open the door for a new restaurant group to lease the property.
“I believe we are very near that, then we can pursue a new tenant,” Karem said. “We are trying to deal with the severing of the relationship with the tenant.”
Insider reached out to Falls City Hospitality Group but did not immediately hear back.
After opening in April 2016, Doc’s Cantina struggled to bring in enough customers to fill the 200 seats in the two-story, nearly 13,900-square-foot building. Before opening, Falls City Hospitality Group invested roughly $3 million in its renovations, and when it shuttered in October 2016, they talked about plans to retool the concept and reopen. However, that never happened.
The three parties involved — Falls City Hospitality Group, property owner WDC and building owner Waterweed — tried unsuccessfully to attract a fourth party to operate a restaurant in the space. Karem said in a past WDC meeting that it was tough to market the space because of the number of parties involved.
On Friday morning, Karem told Insider, “A two-party agreement will be much easier than a three-party agreement.”
The inability to attract a tenant for the property has meant the loss of potential income. While Falls City Hospitality Group still paid a base rent each month — it owes more than $50,000 still — rent for restaurant spaces are based partly on a percentage of sales, and without an active restaurant, there are no sales.
In the meantime, WDC has faced a repeated budget deficit after the state pulled its funding for Waterfront Park. The park is testing donation boxes in the park to encourage users to contribute and is considering other fundraising efforts to help plug the hole. Having an active restaurant in the former Doc’s Cantina — and, before that, Tumbleweed — space would help as well.
“All of us feel like it’s 100 percent prime real estate,” Karem said, later stating: “We need the income from that. We think (a restaurant) enhances the park, we think it enhances the visitors’ experience.”
No decision has been made on what type of concept could work best, he said.
“Without going into it, there have been a surprising number of diverse, yet interesting nibbles or expression of interest,” Karem said.
When asked if WDC and Waterweed would be open to splitting up the enormous space, he said that they are open to any possibility. “I think the most important thing is the track record of success, but everything should be on the table,” Karem said.
As for when they’d like to have a new lease signed, “we would like it today,” he said.