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Brigantine Restaurant San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a 69-year tradition on San Diego Bay, lost out to Brigantine Restaurants Tuesday as the San Diego Unified Port District voted for change on a key site on the downtown waterfront.

The port board voted 4-2 - with one member not participating - to begin negotiations with Brigantine for a new $13 million eating and dining complex on the basis of higher promised rent to the port and an expanded dock-and-dine feature.

The two no votes came from Marshall Merrifield and Robert “Dukie” Valderrama, who wanted to include one or both of the two runners-up in further negotiations.

But Chairman Dan Malcolm endorsed the staff’s recommendation to go with Brigantine.

“On every objective measure, one of the proposals has won the competition, ” Malcolm said. “It is better than the other two.”

Once Anthony’s lease expires at the end of January 2017, the Brigantine hopes to have the go-ahead to demolish the present restaurant at 1360 N. Harbor Drive, just south of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s Star of India.

Its “Portside Pier, ” designed by Tucker Sadler Architects, would include two of its signature restaurants, steak-and-seafood Brigantine on the north and Miguel’s Mexican restaurant with a second-floor viewing deck above on the south; a new concept, “Ketch Grill & Taps, ” a fast-casual eatery and craft brew pub; and a coffee and gelato bar. An expanded dock, including space for about 10 vessels, also is planned. The new complex could open by 2018 if not earlier.

“We’re elated to have this opportunity, ” said Brigantine President and CEO Mike Morton Jr., whose parents opened the first Brigantine on Shelter Island in 1969. “Our goal was to activate the waterfront and give the public more access.”

Craig Ghio, head of Anthony’s, said his family, which has had a restaurant on the downtown waterfront since 1946, has been treated differently from other port tenants that won renewals. He called the port’s review process “baffling” and won the support of Valderrama, who thought loyalty to a long-time port tenant was important.

“On July 18, 2016, Anthony’s will celebrate 70 years on the waterfront, ” said Ghio, whose grandmother started the restaurant as a 17-seat cafe at the old downtown ferry landing. “You commissioners get to decide, is it going to be a party or a funeral.”

In an earlier interview, Ghio said he was considering opening a new restaurant elsewhere but not on port property.

His plan for a new Anthony’s on the present site was included in “The Embarcadero” proposal by the Fish Market Restaurants that has an outlet at the G Street Mole’s Tuna Harbor, south of the USS Midway Museum.

Sunroad Vice President Uri Feldman questioned the financial comparisons port staff prepared, which showed that the Brigantine complex would generate nearly $10.5 million to the port in the first 10 years. That was $2.1 million more than Sunroad and $1.5 million more than Fish Market.

“As the only developer here and with relevant experience on the waterfront, we feel we can do the project a couple years quicker, ” he added.

He predicted it will take at least five years to open a replacement for Anthony’s because of the lengthy environmental review process and possible involvement by the California Coastal Commission.

Brigantine plans to spend $1 million more in construction than its competitors’ estimates and pay at least $1.1 million in annual rent, as much as $275, 000 more than the other two bidders.

While Merrifield scored the Brigantine and Sunroad entries as essentially tied, port staff defended the fairness of the financial comparisons.

Anthony’s opened its current restaurant in 1966 along with the now-closed upscale Star of the Sea Room dining establishment. Ghio had hoped to win a new lease by offering an ambitious redevelopment plan. But the port opened up competition earlier this year to see what other concepts might come forward and generate even more income to the agency.

Six companies submitted bids and the three finalists were given time to revise their plans in August. The commissioners applauded all three proposals and encouraged the runnersup to propose restaurants elsewhere on the bay.

“I think quite frankly all the proposals were very exciting, ” said Commissioner Ann Moore.

Added Commissioner Bob Nelson, “It’s been a very, highly charged real estate deal, ” alluding to widespread public support for Anthony’s. But the high-profile location on San Diego’s so-called “front porch” made the choice among three successful local companies all the more problematic.

More change on the waterfront is coming beyond just Anthony’s. The port board approved a framework for a new master plan for the next 50 years. It also is moving forward with redevelopment of Seaport Village, the eastern part of Harbor Island and the Chula Vista bayfront.

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