Celebrated at its opening, it transformed a former lead smelter into a place for dinner and drinks served with views of Omaha’s growing Missouri riverfront.
Today, Rick’s Cafe Boatyard — a pricey restaurant counted on to anchor new riverfront development — has closed its doors and faces an uncertain future.
Its owner has approached the city with a request to rebrand and remodel the 16,000-square-foot space, City of Omaha officials said Wednesday, with apparent plans to resume operations in the spring.
It’s not yet clear how the city will proceed.
Current and former employees say the business has struggled. City officials report the restaurant has not paid its monthly rent of roughly $5,000 in two months. Douglas County records show the business has not paid its $35,324 property tax bill for 2011.
The site was threatened by record flooding along the Missouri River in 2011.
Some employees gathered for a staff meeting at the restaurant Wednesday and were informed they were out of work.
“It’s the second day of the new year, and we’re all unemployed,” said Micah Speights, 25, a two-year employee of the business.
“They said that they’d be more than willing to hire us back,” Speights said. “But when a business goes under and opens under a new name, they don’t bring the old people back.”
Rick’s Cafe Boatyard, under the ownership of Rick Albrecht, was the lone business that submitted a plan to the city in 2001 to open a restaurant at Lewis and Clark Landing.
The property, which sits on the site of the former Asarco lead refinery, is owned by the city, which signed an extensive 30-year agreement to lease the property to the restaurateur.
That agreement set specific requirements for parts of the restaurant’s operations. The city gave the restaurant exclusive access to the redeveloped refinery site, and even prevented any construction in the immediate vicinity that might impair views of the building.
Part of the lease agreement prohibits Albrecht from renovating the property without city approval.
The restaurant’s doors were locked and its parking lot was empty Wednesday during the restaurant’s normal lunch hours. Later in the day, someone affixed a sign to the door saying the business was closed for remodeling.
“I can’t talk to you at this time,” Albrecht, who is from Indianapolis, told a World-Herald reporter before ending the conversation.
An employee at Albrecht’s Indianapolis restaurant said that site was open for business Wednesday. That location also was set to be renovated, the employee said, but those plans have been delayed.
Aida Amoura, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Suttle, said Albrecht hoped to meet with city officials about the restaurant this week “to discuss its future.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s definitely out,” City Attorney Paul Kratz said of Albrecht’s operation.
The city does have options, however, to make sure it maintains a riverfront restaurant.
Kratz said it could seek a new operator for the restaurant, or work with Albrecht on an overhauled approach.
Such decisions haven’t been made yet and could take time to determine.
If the lease with the business is terminated, the city would take over ownership of the restaurant. The city can terminate the lease agreement for a variety of reasons that include: a tenant’s bankruptcy, failure to make payments or abandoning the property’s development and operation.
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