Benny’s is back: Lake Worth Beach votes to renew lease agreement with iconic restaurant Benny’s on the Beach
Benny’s on the Beach is back in business.
After months of negotiations between Lake Worth Beach and Benny’s owner Lee Lipton over a fair base rent for the taxpayer-owned property, the City Commission voted 4-1 in a special meeting on Wednesday night to renew the oceanfront icon’s lease agreement for another 10 years.
The impasse between Lipton and city leaders reached a crescendo on April 18, when Lipton delivered a fiery ultimatum to the dais that he would close Benny’s if commissioners renegotiated his lease agreement further. That set off a firestorm of Internet comments from both Benny’s fans and detractors, signed Change.org petitions (8,013 votes and counting to “Save Benny’s”), national media coverage and even a massive “Save Benny’s on the Beach” billboard on Interstate 95.
Ultimately, Lipton agreed to pay a base rent that lets Benny’s “ease their way into this alignment” of rent paid by neighboring retail tenants at the municipal complex, commissioner Kim Stokes said Wednesday night.
“I was hesitant to pay 65 percent more than we’re paying right now, but I believe in Benny’s, and I believe in this city,” Lipton told commissioners after the vote, his voice cracking with emotion. “If you believed in Benny’s for the first 30 to 40 years, you can believe in Benny’s for the next 30 to 40 years.”
For 37 years, Benny’s on the Beach has been an oceanfront icon, a seafood restaurant perched behind Lake Worth Beach’s scenic pier, beckoning locals, tourists and celebrities from singer Jon Bon Jovi to chef Gordon Ramsay.
For the past month, the threat of permanent closure has loomed over the landmark hangout after Lipton and city commissioners failed to agree on a long-term lease renewal for the property, which has operated at the William O. Lockhart Municipal Pier since 1986.
Under the new lease agreement, Benny’s will pay $44 per square foot for the main restaurant, up from $32.69 per square foot, starting May 12. That base rent will jump to $47 per square foot in year two and $50.35 in year three, increasing by 3.5 percent every year thereafter. The new rates mark the first increase since 2013 for Benny’s.
During the April 18 meeting, the Lake Worth Beach commission had shot down the rate of $42 per square foot, setting off weeks of new negotiations.
The May 10 vote to renew Benny’s lease also ends weeks of fearful speculation from Palm Beach County residents that the stalemate between the city and Lipton might force the eatery to shut down.
“I’m so proud of this city for standing up,” Lake Worth Beach resident Debra Robert told the dais on Wednesday. “I was wondering how long we would have gone on putting the squeeze on this business owner, not to mention the cost of our reputation we’re losing day by day across the state.”
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