Bellevue Eases Rules as Joe's Crab Shack Closes, Burger King Cancels New Plans
This story has been updated to include contents from the letter received by the City of Bellevue from representatives of Joe's Crab Shack, as referenced in Wednesday night's city council meeting by Mayor Charlie Cleves. RCN obtained the letter through an open records request on Thursday.
Bellevue city council voted for changes to assist its businesses, as restaurants are poised to reopen at a reduced capacity, and as one long-standing restaurant announced its permanent closure, and another said that it would not move forward with a new building.
Joe's Crab Shack is closing its location on Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue, Mayor Charlie Cleves said Wednesday during the virtual city council meeting. Cleves said that he received a letter indicating the company's plans.
RCN obtained the letter through an open records request on Thursday. The letter was written by Jeff Cantwell, listed as an authorized representative of Houston-based Joe's Crab Shack, which operates the Bellevue location through a lease agreement with the City of Bellevue.
"I regret that I am not writing this letter to you under better circumstances. However, as you are aware, the current COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire hospitality industry nationwide, including in Kentucky," Cantwell wrote. "The government response to the pandemic has forced the closure of the Tenant's restaurant, with no clear picture on the path to full reopening. As a result, I am sending this letter on Tenant's behalf as courtesy in order to inform and prepare the Landlord that the Tenant has made the difficult decision that it will permanently cease operations and not reopen the restaurant."
The letter notes that Joe's Crab Shack could not rely on curbside pick-up or takeout to recoup its significant losses brought on the pandemic and ensuing business restrictions.
"In light of our longstanding relationship, the current unfortunate situation, and in the interest of an orderly end to the Lease, we would propose that Landlord and Tenant enter into a mutually agreeable termination agreement wherein Tenant would expressly convey to Landlord all non-proprietary furniture, fixtures, equipment and other leasehold improvements currently in the Premises, other than inventory, proprietary items of personal property, leased equipment, office equipment, and the point of sale system," Cantwell wrote.
Cleves also said that plans for a new Burger King to be constructed on Donnermeyer Drive across from the Kroger store have been scrapped. The franchise of the national fast food chain operates a location on Fairfield Avenue that was slated to close once the new one was built.
City Administrator Frank Warnock also noted that restaurants will soon reopen in Kentucky at a reduced indoor capacity of 33 percent, while outdoor dining must enforce social distancing keeping people six feet apart.
"Restaurants have been struggling," he said. "In my opinion, and the mayor's opinion, we've got to get creative to do everything we can to help our restaurants, eating, and drinking establishments."
Cleves said that he has been receiving calls from concerned restaurant operators who are worried that they won't make money at 33 percent customer capacity inside. The mayor discussed a proposal on Wednesday night that would allow for the closure of some parts of sidewalks and streets to make way for more outdoor seating. "It would be good if we could let them put their other two-thirds on the sidewalk," Cleves said.
Council voted to instruct Warnock to develop guidelines for allowing restaurants and taverns to place tables and chairs on the sidewalks, in public rights of way, and on adjacent private property (with permission).
The closure of Joe's Crab Shack, while a loss for the city, may also be a help to this new action. Warnock called the company after it announced its closure to the city, and requested the use of the Crab Shack's tables and chairs to assist the remaining restaurants with outdoor dining. "An hour later, they said yes," Mayor Cleves said.
The aforementioned letter from Cantwell also indicated that Joe's Crab Shack would be willing to turn over its non-proprietary furniture, among other items.
Pedestrians will have designated walkways with the seating blocked off by cones or barriers, and all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements will be followed, Councilman Scott Witte said.
"We need to keep our restaurants in Bellevue and not let anymore of them go under," Cleves said.
City council also adopted amendments to Bellevue's relatively new entertainment district (BED) designation, which allows for the carrying of open alcoholic beverages along portions of Fairfield Avenue. Instead of being limited to Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m., the BED will operate Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The pandemic has already hampered the city's 150th anniversary celebrations and forced the cancellation of the annual Memorial Day parade it shares with Dayton.
Councilwoman Shauna Kruse updated the council on sesquicentennial activities and said that events will resume when they are permitted. Meanwhile, merchandise is still for sale, she said.
The sesquicentennial committee is also collecting writings from citizens in which 100 words are requested, detailing what it is like to be in Bellevue today during COVID-19. The words and merchandise requests can be emailed to Kruse, who said that she will deliver purchased items to front porches.
Mayor Cleves also announced that the June concert at Bellevue Beach Park is canceled.
"We may lose the whole summer," Cleves said.
The city, which hosted its first virtual council meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, is also working on its budget, which is taking a hit, Warnock said, because of the decreased payroll tax revenue. Due to the pandemic, many workers have either lost their jobs or are working from home. Many businesses remain largely shuttered or operate at a reduced capacity.
"We know we are going to take a hit," Warnock said. "Projections by experts have been estimated between five and eighteen percent. It's a fluid situation, we really don't know."
Warnock said that the city postponed its first reading of the annual budget ordinance until the first council meeting in June so that preliminary work can continue.
In other business, the council approved the application for a grant to improve the Van Voast Bridge, and also approved a resolution in support of state funding for a new Fourth Street Bridge between Covington and Newport.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: A scene on Fairfield Avenue (RCN file)