Months of negotiations between the River Parks Authority and a group selected to build a new restaurant on the east bank of the Arkansas River finally bore fruit last week as the authority's board of trustees approved a lease between the two parties, meaning ground on the project could be broken by late summer.
Swamphouse Partners LLC was selected by the authority's board of trustees to develop the 3.8-acre site at 1924 Riverside Drive in March. Negotiations on a lease agreement began in April, and the trustees finally approved the terms July 9.
Tom Dittus, spokesman for Swamphouse Partners, said he was happy and relieved to have an agreement in place.
"These things take time," he said. "My normal way of operating is, 'Ready, fire, aim.' But this process is a little more complicated than just signing a lease because it's on public property."
Dittus' group still needs to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but he said he hopes to begin construction by Sept. 15. That would give Swamphouse Partners five months to get its new restaurant built before its targeted opening date of Feb. 15.
"It's a tight schedule, but we think we can do it," he said.
Swamphouse Partners will resurrect the Blue Rose Café--a restaurant and live music hotspot that was a longtime fixture in the Brookside district before closing in 2001--on the site. The group will pay the authority a base rent of $21,600 a year, Dittus said, along with a percentage of gross sales beyond a certain amount. If sales top $1 million, Dittus said, the authority will be paid an additional 5 percent. If sales top $2 million, the authority will receive an additional 2.5 percent, he said. The lease extends for 10 years with four options to renew that cover five years each, meaning the agreement could total 30 years.
Dittus said the lease agreement also includes a provision for Swamphouse Partners to take over the old River's Edge Bistro building located at the site. Trustees originally planned to tear the building down, but Dittus said his group wants to retain it, if possible, using it to sell such items as energy bars and bottled water to those who use the trails.
"That's our intention, if we can squeeze it into the budget," he said. "It would be such a convenience for park users."
Another nearby building featuring restrooms will be demolished, Dittus said, and a new restroom facility will be built by the authority about 100 yards to the north, near a playground, he said.
Another element that has changed since Swamphouse Partners submitted its original proposal to the authority is the parking situation. The group was going to build its own parking lot for the restaurant, but after consulting with the authority, the plan now calls for simply expanding the existing lot.
The lot currently has room for 46 spaces, but 30 spaces will be added. Dittus said the lot itself has only one entry/exit point right now, and his group will add two more.
The restaurant itself will be a 3,000-square-foot structure on piers with a patio that extends over the water.
Indoor and outdoor seating will be offered. The members of Swamphouse Partners are investing $500,000 in the project, which also will receive $250,000 in public funding that was earmarked for the project years ago through the third-penny sales tax.
Dittus said a contractor has not been hired yet and would be done so through a competitive bid process.
"We're looking for the right guy to do it fast, efficiently and perfectly," he said.
Dittus credited his partners with getting the lease agreement done.
"I've got an amazing group around me," he said. "My investment group is many times smarter than I am. They're basically the ones who got all this done, in terms of negotiating the lease. Now we're ready for the dominoes to fall."
While the lease negotiations were unfolding, Dittus was having a series of conversations with the nearby Tulsa Riverview Neighborhood Association over the restaurant's plans to present live music. Dittus said earlier this summer the Blue Rose would offer live music Thursdays through Saturdays, though that schedule could expand to nightly offerings, if the market exists for it.
Dittus approached the neighborhood in hopes of reaching an agreement on a noise level and curfew so that there would be no conflict or ill feeling with nearby residents. He said his discussions with neighborhood association president Anne Pollard have been productive.
"They have indicated their full and complete support," Dittus said.
Dittus is confident nothing stands in the way of the project, now that his group has an agreement with the authority.
"Now everything is go time," he said.
Share this article: