Wayne Eldred, Owner of Tarpon Bend on Miracle Mile, has Shuttered its Doors. Is it a Sign of Times to Come?
For the past 15 years, Miracle Mile’s eastern block has been anchored by Tarpon Bend, the massive, sprawling home to great seafood, burgers and yes, even fried chicken. It had also become the happy hour place to be, where hundreds of smartly dressed young men and women would crowd in to drink, eat and be merry. With the new Streetscape in place, they could spill onto the now widened sidewalk.
All of that came to an abrupt end four days before Valentine’s Day, when proprietor Wayne Eldred announced to a standing-room-only crowd – many with tears in their eyes – that Tarpon Bend was closing. “We did not go out of business. We just decided to close, to depart this location,” says Eldred. “Due to an unsustainable rent, it no longer made economic sense for us to stay.”
Eldred declines to comment further on what transpired with his landlord, New York-based CF Miracle Mile Holding Company. But those familiar with the situation say the landlord, who purchased the building in 2013 for $21.5 million (up from $14.6 million in 2011) say they paid too much and had to pass the expense on to their tenants. (Another restaurant in the same building, Bocas, also shut down earlier in February).
“I’m going to call it the Lincoln Road Mall syndrome,” says Leonard Roberts, the city’s assistant manager for economic development who oversees its real estate portfolio. “Thee value of the properties tends to increase before the retail improves… People have been buying [properties] in anticipation of the new traffic. The taxes went up so much, it was like doubling the rent.” Whereas rents on Miracle Mile were about $40 per square foot two years ago, they are now moving north of $75 per square foot, says Roberts. “We believe Tarpon Bend and Bocas were paying a lot.”
The closing of Tarpon Bend also reflects other changes, says Roberts. Among these is that the number of restaurants in the Gables has grown faster than its population. Another is that the smaller, chef-driven concept is replacing big-footprint spaces like Tarpon.
“This [closing] is a major blow to the street and should bring an awareness about what is going on,” says Venny Torre, chairman of the downtown Business Improvement District. “I don’t think there is a shortage of people coming to the Mile… [But] we need to see what success looks like, who is doing well and why they are doing well. The question is whether this is a trend or the outlier.” Regardless of the metrics of Tarpon Bend, says Torre, “I think we lost a great operator and a great person, and we will definitely miss him.”
That may be an understatement. Eldred was, and remains, a beloved local leader committed to the community. He is past chair of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the current chair of the Doctors Hospital Foundation, and on the board of directors for Camillus House, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, and the Baptist Health Foundation.
We did not go out of business. We just decided to close, to depart this location, due to an unstustainable rent…Wayne Edlred
Eldred says he has no plans to abandon Coral Gables – having just relocated to a home within blocks of Tarpon Bend. He will continue to run the Gables-based events and entertainment company Brown Label, and has every intention of reopening – just not this year.
“This is my first break in 23 years. I’m going to refine the business model at home and relaunch something that is sharper,” says Eldred. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I will go back into business, but probably not until 2020.” And while he prefers the Gables, that depends on an affordable location; already Eldred has been approached by property owners in Coconut Grove. In the meantime, the fallout from Tarpon Bend’s closing is anybody’s guess.
Eldred calculates that the loss of payroll for 50 local employees, plus the loss of Tarpon as a draw for clients who then spent money in other places in the Gables, could exceed $3 million a year. And where will those Happy Hour revelers now go?
“There is a predatory landlord mentality that is gouging some of the tenants,” says John Kunkel, the CEO of 50 Eggs who has just launched Ad Lib on Ponce de Leon.
“We’ve had a lot of new seats arrive and some of the highest rents. It’s not sustainable… We are looking at the evolution of the Gables, what they have and what they are looking for. I think for right now what the Gables needs are the smaller, chef-driven places that are somewhat unique.”