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Big Rent Hike Forces 2 Pier Favorites Out

May 01, 1988|KENNETH J. GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

The bottom line has become the end of the line for two Malibu mainstays, which are vacating the Malibu pier after being faced with rent increases of up to 500%.

Alice's Restaurant and Malibu Sport Fishing, two landmarks in the famed coastal community, are bailing out of their quarters and will soon be replaced by several smaller retail outlets under a state plan to increase the pier's commercial appeal.

Alice's will move into the new Pacific Sunset complex, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, at the beginning of October. Ted Mills, manager of the sportfishing outlet, which will close May 15, says he'll just be moving on.

"I'm going to go fishing in Alaska for a few weeks," Mills said. "And then I guess I'm going to come back and enter the job market. We're through here. We'll just sell the boats, close the business."

Market Value

Joel Ladin, a Century City attorney who is the new concession manager for the state-owned pier, said the rent increases reflect current market value for similar operations along the coast. He added that the rent increases were necessary for him to turn a profit at the pier, since his 20-year contract requires that he pay the state 9% of the pier's gross earnings and invest $1 million to clean up the dilapidated structure.

"I think it's just good business, and it should be a popular move," said Ladin, who also runs the stable concession at Will Rogers State Historic Park. "It's not a case of throwing people out. It's a case of people not wanting to pay the going market rates."

The 85-year-old pier has suffered over the years from absentee ownership and been worn down by daily punishment from the ocean. The state bought the pier from Malibu resident William Huber in 1980, and the structure has been closed periodically since then because of heavy storm damage.

State officials maintain that although more than 500,000 people from throughout the world visit the pier each year, the sportfishing shop and the restaurant are the only two commercial outlets available. Ladin said he will replace the two popular haunts with three restaurants, a fast-food stand and a gift shop. The state contract also requires him to replace Mills' bait and tackle shop with another sportfishing outlet within a year.

But local anglers, who include numerous film stars, say the demise of the fishing operation marks the end of an era in Malibu.

"I caught my first fish on this pier in 1955, and it's hardly changed over the years," said Chris Hale, who has been fishing on the pier ever since. "Everybody realizes that it's a business decision, but in this case, a local business is being squeezed out. The little guy is being pushed out in the name of commercial interests."

Mills said the new 63-page lease he received from Ladin earlier this month would have increased his rent from $8,800 to $36,000 per year--around 400%--not including parking, insurance or maintenance fees, which would have cost him another $13,000. That would take the rent increase to above 500%. He said the sportfishing outlet grossed about $400,000 a year.

"There just isn't that much money in this business to pay that kind of rent," the 61-year-old Mills said. "During the winter months, when there's little or no business, you're still required to pay the same rent, and it's just not possible."

Bob Yuro, one of the three co-owners of Alice's, which opened on the pier 16 years ago, said his rent would have doubled to almost 17% of the restaurant's gross profits, since he and his partners would have been required to pay for maintenance, security and any future improvements.

'Made It Impossible'

"It would have been a very tenuous situation for us to try and turn a profit at that rate," Yuro said. "He just about made it impossible for us to strike a deal, and any other bona fide restaurant owner would come to the same conclusion."

Ladin countered that the rent increases were justified, especially since the entire pier will be renovated during the next year. He said he expects no difficulty in finding other dining and fishing facilities to replace the popular hangouts.

"I'm willing to do whatever is possible so that by July 4, 1989, we will have experienced a rebirth of the pier," he said.

Yuro said it's a case of tossing aside a popular establishment in pursuit of a bigger profit.

"The whole thing is very sad," he said. "It's like losing a kid. We've seen the restaurant survive floods and fires. You watch it change over the years, and you grow to love it. But, by the same token, we can move elsewhere."

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