Waterfront Development Corporation asks Doc's Cantina to pay up or get out

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A deal to redevelop the vacant Doc’s Cantina on the Ohio River recently fell apart, forcing Waterfront Park leaders to weigh legal options for the property, the park’s top official said Wednesday.

The Waterfront Development Corp., the agency that oversees the 85-acre park near downtown, learned in the last two weeks that a brewery group considering the property had backed out, executive director David Karem said.

“They were no longer interested in that site because of the difficulties of the ... lease,” Karem said.

The Doc's Cantina restaurant abruptly closed in October 2016, about six months after it opened, replacing a Tumbleweed that operated in the park for years until it shut down in 2014 during a rent dispute. 

Falls City Hospitality Group operated Doc's Cantina and leases the land and building from a separate company, Waterweed LLC, which also was Tumbleweed's landlord and owns the building. In turn, Waterweed leases the property from the waterfront agency. 

As recently as this spring, Karem had said his staff was working with Falls City Hospitality to bring a group affiliated with Quaff On! Brewing Company of Nashville, Ind.

A Quaff On! representative did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment Thursday. Chip Hamm of Falls City Hospitality declined to comment, citing ongoing talks about the property.

The latest setback for the Doc's Cantina building comes as the Waterfront Development Corp. is looking to generate $450,000 per year in new revenue to help replace the loss of state funding that stopped in 2014 and hasn't returned. Those appropriations amounted to about $420,000 annually.

Officials say they are open to various types of revenues, but they aren't considering paying for parking or charging admission. A group of private donors chipped in $255,000 of their own money last year to fund park operations after the agency agreed to charge a controversial $3 parking fee.

With the restaurant shuttered, the park is missing out on a revenue-sharing agreement that provides about $100,000 in rent payments and 3.5 percent of all gross sales above that amount per year, according to lease documents. Karem said Falls City Hospitality is now about $70,000 behind on its rent payments.  

The park has a similar deal with Joe's Crab Shack, which returns about $150,000 annually to the waterfront agency in shared profits, he said.

Several board and staff members of the waterfront agency expressed frustration over the Doc's Cantina property during Wednesday's board meeting, with chairwoman Susan Moss calling the state of the property "kind of ridiculous." 

"Obviously it's a beautiful site," Moss said after the meeting. "It's right on the water. It's got gorgeous windows. You would think it would be super popular." 

Karem said Thursday that the waterfront agency is reviewing its lease for the Doc's Cantina property and working with the Jefferson County Attorney's Office and Waterweed "to see what our options are to try to aggressively get somebody in the building." 

Karem said the building has suffered some flood damage. Waterweed representatives did not immediately return phone calls Thursday afternoon.

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