Bono Selling His Popular Restaurant, Tennis Club

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mayor Sonny Bono is selling his namesake Italian restaurant and tennis club that, four years ago, inspired his entry into local politics.

"A restaurant is a full-time job, and so is politicking," explained Bono, who has been the owner of Bono's Restaurant on Indian Avenue since 1985 and mayor since 1988.

"I originally came to Palm Springs to semi-retire and I'm busier now than I've ever been in my life, including the time of 'Sonny and Cher.' "

The popular complex, which inspired political controversy when it became the site of this year's Virginia Slims tennis tournament, is being bought by the owners of the hotel next door, the Palm Springs Radisson Resort and Conference Center.

Reiner Reitig, the hotel's general manager, said the property's 11 tennis courts, restaurant and nightclub were originally part of the 30-year-old hotel, but were leased to other entities more than a decade ago.

"We felt the two properties, which connect at the parking lot, should be tied together again," Reitig said. Escrow closes in about two weeks. Neither man would disclose the sale price, but Bono said the 5 1/2-acre property has been appraised at more than $3 million.

Locals said that speculation is rife about the mayor's reason for selling the restaurant. It was a flap over the size of the restaurant sign, after all, that Bono has credited with his decision to run for mayor.

"I think it's twofold," said Marilyn Baker, who ran Bono's campaign and publishes the Palm Springs Desert VIEW, a private business journal of insider news.

"With two children in the household, he doesn't feel his wife has time to oversee the restaurant," Baker said. "And I think Sonny was very uncomfortable about having his feet held to the fire over the conflict of interest of the Virginia Slims (tournament) being held there."

Bono came under criticism last year after the organizers of the internationally known tennis event chose his facility from a slate of nearly a dozen proposed as the site of the 1991 tournament.

City spokesman Frank Cullen said the mayor was aware of the potential conflict from the outset, but did not withdraw his complex from the running in part because he was eager to woo the prized and lucrative event away from the neighboring city of Indian Wells.

Cullen said that, instead, the city asked for legal opinions from the city attorney, state attorney general and Riverside County district attorney. It was determined, he said, that Bono's could be host of the event as long as the city was not actively or officially involved as a promoter.

To distance himself further, Bono also agreed to allow another local hotel owner to take over his complex during the tournament at a price that matched his income for the same two-week period the previous year, Cullen said. The other hotelier, Joe Solomon, is renovating the Canyon Hotel, and had planned at the time to offer his grounds as a future site for the tournament, but has since dropped those plans.

Bono, who is running for re-election next year, said the Virginia Slims affair had no bearing on his decision to sell. But, he added, "I'll enjoy not having to deal with those complications in the future."

The sale, however, does not mean the Bono name will be erased from the neon boulevards of the community. Only the owner will change. The name will remain the same, and Bono said he will remain on the premises most nights to act as an unofficial host.

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