March 8, 2019
Dewey's Sunday Fundays here to stay after vote ends months long dispute
A tumultuous, months long debate among members of the Dewey Beach Lions Club over what to do about leasing its waterfront property has finally reached a conclusion.
"It was a no-lose situation no matter which way the club went. It was going to be good for charitable giving," said Lions board member TJ Redefer, a local business owner and real estate broker who was elected mayor in 2017.
The dilemma for the Lions Club, which owns the property and parking lot on McKinley Street, was whether to stick with Highway One Group's continued operation of northbeach, the bayside bar and self-proclaimed "home of the Dewey Devil," or enter into a much longer agreement to remake the property under the guidance of the team behind The Starboard and Big Fish Restaurant Group.
"The club was very split, but it ultimately came down to what's best for the Lions, what's best for the community and what's best for the town," Redefer said.
Highway One also owns Dewey Beach landmarks Bottle & Cork, The Rusty Rudder and Jimmy's Grille. It first opened northbeach, which is spelled with a lowercase "n," in 2000 after signing the first 20-year lease.
On Thursday night, nearly 70 Dewey Beach Lions Club members backed the board's decision to choose Highway One's proposal to keep doing what it's been doing for the last 20 years — with a more impressive flow of cash.
"I wish I could give a dollar amount, but I can say it's at least $100,000 more than our previous agreement," Redefer said. More than 30 club members voted against giving the lease to Highway One.
The new seven-year lease with Highway One gives the company an option for a three-year renewal. If Highway One runs northbeach for the full 10 years, that would be half as long as the original lease that expires in early 2020.
While the new lease is shorter, it's also much more stringent, Redefer said. That's to ensure that problems in the past — drunken, late-night brawls and rowdy crowds inspired by dollar drinks — won't continue to pose problems.
"Now our communication with our tenant is much better than it ever was before, and we can all see that they did the good fight to make sure they were the best tenant," he said. "But this is all about Lion vision research and helping people around the world get glasses."
Alex Pires, the businessman, attorney and leader of Highway One, said he had no comment.
Starboard's Steve "Monty" Montgomery said on Friday afternoon that while he knew Highway One had beat his team's proposal, he had yet to hear from the Lions Club about its vote.
"Everybody hears quickly with social media," he said. "We presented a very thought-out, professional presentation and bid on the property to do something completely different than what's currently there."
He said the plan would have mimicked Nick's Fish House in Baltimore and called for significant investments in building repairs and renovations.
"The proposal was still a fun Dewey Beach Bar with also bringing our style of food into the place," Montgomery said.
"Now I can turn my attention to the Starboard's opening weekend next weekend," he said.
Dewey residents react
Online, critics were scattered in a public announcement that Highway One was victorious in the battle for northbeach.
"Ugh this is awful...NorthBeach has gone downhill!" one person commented on iDewey.com's Facebook page.
"What a shame! ... For the owners to decide to not make a change is crazy," another wrote.
New vote, ultimate decision
The Dewey Beach Lions Club initially rejected the board's recommendation to stick with Highway One.
The club's bylaws state the 14-member board must present its decision to the membership at large on leasing decisions, Redefer said. In late October, after the board recommended Highway One after a 12-2 vote, the general membership rejected the recommendation 54-41.
This time around, the vote was 67-31 in favor of Highway One, a board member said.