The historic, former River House Restaurant could be getting a new lease on life as a boutique bed-and-breakfast inn.
Renovations to the decaying building would create up to a dozen suites on the property, a gift shop, wine-tasting bar along the Riverwalk, and a patio restaurant serving light fare throughout the day and tapas at night.
The bed and breakfast would be the third place for tourists to stay downtown. The only current downtown lodgings are the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard and the Hampton Inn on Andrews Avenue, officials said.
Kristin Kitchen, a Cincinnati entrepreneur who turned a condemned historic home there into a successful bed and breakfast a decade ago, has set her sights on the River House makeover.
"In spite of it being downtown, there's a real serenity to that spot," Kitchen said of the shaded River House location on Southwest Third Avenue along the north side of the New River. "It's a structure that we could preserve. It's got great guts."
Kitchen's Historic Hospitality Group LLC proposal was one of three submitted for the city-owned property and received the top ranking from city staff. Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to negotiate with her group or one of the other two.
James Campbell of Riverfront Cruise and Anticipation Yacht Charters LLC proposed a restaurant and banquet facility, potentially combining River House activities with cruises.
Kathleen Robinson of Stirlings LLC submitted plans for a 15-room boutique inn and an upscale fine-dining restaurant on the property.
No matter which is selected, Mayor Jack Seiler hopes to see the property become a significant anchor on the city's Riverwalk.
"I hope whatever goes in there generates a lot of pedestrian activity, a lot of sales activity," Seiler said.
The city has been trying to find a suitable use for the River House for years. A similar effort failed in 2010, when the city was unable to come to terms with the lone qualified bidder, who proposed a high-end gourmet wine restaruant.
The River House is actually two homes — the Historic Bryan Homes built in 1903 for brothers Tom and Reed Bryan — that sit in the city's historic Himmarshee Village on the site of the city's original post office. The structure has been shuttered for four years, except for its limited use this fall as a stage set for a telenovela soap opera.
It has been known for fine dining, first as a Chart House restaurant and then as the luxurious River House Restaurant. The River House shut down because of financial problems and increasing maintenance costs on the structure.
Kitchen's group has committed to spending $1.7 million toward renovating and restoring the decaying structure.
Kitchen has been looking to move to South Florida after a decade owning the Six Acres Bed & Breakfast in Cincinatti. That B&B was the former home of abolitionist Zebulon Strong, dating to the 1850s, and was a stop on the underground railroad that offered shelter to escaping slaves.
Don Patterson of Fort Lauderdale is partnering with Kitchen on the River House proposal. He said they hope to have the operation up and running by the fall, if it's approved.
Kitchen's plan would allow the facility to host weddings, receptions and other events. It would turn the existing solarium into an artist's studio. Art and basic wine classes would be offered to the public.
The proposed construction would add bathrooms for each individual suite, enhance the patio to accommodate outdoor dining, install an elevator and remove the building's staircase to create a guest lobby.
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