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City of Pensacola vs. Fishhouse dispute

PENSACOLA  --  Negotiations are set to begin Monday, Dec. 9, in the lease controversy between the City of Pensacola and the Fish House Restaurant. The city says the restaurant owes them a percentage of it's sales for the past 13 years. That's roughly $5,000,000. However, the Fish House says the City is just trying to get a piece of the pie.

Nearly 30 years ago, the City of Pensacola drew up a ground lease agreement concerning the property where Fish House currently sits. The three parcels piece of land is called Pitt's slip and is owned by the city. Fish House owner, Collier Merrill received a letter from the city on November 15th stating that his company, Merrill Land LLC, now owes more than  $5,000,000 in back rent. It gets a little confusing because there are several companies involved with this piece of land. The original lease was given to Seville Harbor Inc, the company who owns the marina. Merrill Land LLC bought the building in 2000 and subleases the land from Seville Harbor Inc. Another company of Merrill's, Great Southern Restaurant company owns The Fish House Restaurant and Atlas Oyster Bar.

 The lease agreement says that the leaseholders must pay the city $40,000 a year or 5% of gross sales. The letter demands the back rent from Merrill Land LLC and Seville Harbor Inc. However the dollar amount is based on sales from the Fish House Restaurant and Atlas Oyster bar and those restaurants are not in the lease agreement.

Merrill said ,"If they didn't like it that way, that's not the way it should have been written. You can't go back  now well 'we didn't mean that'. If so, we wouldn't have done it otherwise. We wouldn't have spent 2 million a few years ago, if we thought they could ever come back. They have never questioned it."

The notice also says the lease holder has 90 days to pay up or the lease would be terminated and the restaurant shut down. Merrill feels this is all a political move that is harming his business. He said, "In a meeting we had, they said this is just another negotiating tool. That's not a good negotiating tool when the headlines are saying Fish House may lose their lease."
WEAR tried to call the Mayor, the city administrator, and the lawyers in these documents but not one call was returned. The public information officer said the city is not commenting due to pending litigation.

Merrill said they will stay in business and the claims are completely unfounded, "We paid every penny since 2000. We never heard a word of this, 13 years later now they come back 'oh you haven't paid your rent cause of sales,' It's 100 percent baseless."