It’s been over three years, but one of Beached Whale’s owners, Marty Harrity, is finally getting his Christmas wish from 2013. On Monday morning, August 15th, he will proudly wield the first shovel to break ground on the restaurant’s long-awaited new deck – a project that has been fraught with controversy and tied up in red tape since the Local Planning Agency first approved it in April 2013.
“I literally constructed a brand new building on Sanibel Island in less time than it’s taken to get the permitting done for this deck,” he told us on Tuesday, when we met with him and General Manager Charity Blakey to discuss plans for the future of the Whale, which will close for a month while the new deck is constructed – reopening in the fall with some new menu items and a whole new look.
“Three years ago, I went to the Town and said, here’s what we want to do,” Harrity said. “I had an architect make up some designs based on the Land Development Code (LDC) and from there we went back and forth – the drawings weren’t right, the setbacks weren’t right, something.”
Marty says he’s willing to admit that half of the three-year delay is his fault.
“One issue is that I probably didn’t have the right people on my team, I’ll admit,” he said. “But the other year and a half? That’s someone’s else’s fault.”
Harrity, a former mayor of Sanibel Island and a current Sanibel city council member, says he understands how government works and that nothing gets done fast.
“I also fully understand building codes, and the idea of preserving neighborhoods – what it is to be a part of a community – the last thing in the world we ever want to do is destroy that,” he told us. “I’ve worked very hard to maintain the character and culture of not only this island, but Sanibel and Captiva too. However, I think that – as government – we should be in the customer service business just like restaurants are in the hospitality business. The objective should be, ‘How can I help you?’ not, ‘How can I make it harder for you?’”
Charity told us that the new project will feature a covered deck, seating for about 40 patrons and will be accessed via French double doors with sidelights, set into what is now the front of the eatery, which will bring much needed light into the ground floor of the restaurant.
“We’re also going to have a brand new handicapped ramp that will wrap around the north side of the building,” Charity continued. “The great thing is that the new deck will be completely covered, with roll-down screens if it rains or gets too cold – that’s something we’ve never had on the top deck, which is always subject to the weather.”
Since the establishment stopped hosting live music several months ago, the Whale has changed from a place where people partied until 2am into a more typical restaurant – closing at 11pm on the weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Charity told us those hours would remain even with the new deck, though they may resume live entertainment in the evenings.
“The way it’s designed, there will be plenty of room for a single act or maybe a duo,” she said. “But nothing like it was before.”
The bottom line, Harrity told us, is that he’s just trying to do the best thing for the Whale and its staff. On the day we visited, only one person sat at the spacious downstairs bar though we saw several groups of people come in and request seating upstairs.
“I want to improve the Whale and make it the best it can be, and to do that we need outside seating downstairs,” Marty said. “But, as business people, we also need the people in the community – its contradictory to think we’d do anything to hurt them. Some people just don’t want to see the deck built, period. But we followed the LDC; we followed the process; we followed the rules.”
At least one neighbor likes what the Whale is planning.
“This will be a great addition to our neighborhood,” said Andrea Carriere, owner of Silver Sands – a resort located next door to the Beached Whale. “They have always been a great neighbor, and this new deck will be an enhancement to the beach.”
Harrity says that he plans to keep his employees working while the restaurant is closed and believes that everyone will like and enjoy the new look.
“I will go on record to say that – a year from now – people will say, ‘Why didn’t they do this 10 years ago’,” he told us.
“Let’s get those shovels in the ground and get people back to work!”
Keri Hendry Weeg