Eager to begin construction of a two-story restaurant at the foot of the Ventura Pier, the City Council Monday approved spending an additional $98,000 to anchor the building to the century-old landmark.
The expenditure hikes total construction costs for the long-awaited project to more than $1 million, the bulk of which city officials expect to recover from future lease payments.
City officials identified the pier restaurant as a top priority last year and agreed to spend up to $830,000 to build the project.
Since then, the city has approved more than $200,000 worth of additional expenditures to reinforce pier supports and upgrade the original proposal.
In his report to the City Council Monday, Public Works Director Ronald Calkins said the escalating costs were attributable to changes in the restaurant's structural design.
"Originally, we anticipated a single-story restaurant," he explained before the meeting. "This is a two-story restaurant. . . . With a more massive restaurant, those problems are compounded."
The City Council unanimously approved spending the additional $98,000. Not a single member commented on the expenditure during the brief, 45-minute meeting, and just one Ventura resident addressed the council in support of the project.
In interviews before and after the meeting, council members said the escalating costs were understandable, given the design changes.
"When you have a revision in your structural design," Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures said, "it is assured there will be additional costs."
"It is always painful," Mayor Tom Buford said before Monday's meeting, "to have a project come in that doesn't meet the budget guidelines you expect it to meet.
"I think it is a good investment and I think we are committed to it. It's just not the most desirable way to do it," he said.
City officials would have preferred turning the entire project over to a developer. But because the pier is in the state-controlled tidelands area, the city is prohibited from granting a lease to a developer for more than 10 years, Buford said.
As a result, developers were unwilling to invest their money in the project and the city decided to fund construction of the 6,000-square-foot restaurant, Buford said.
"We would have preferred to have put the costs on a developer," Buford said. "The city charter doesn't allow us to do that."
The restaurant, to be called Eric Ericsson's On the Pier, will be developed and operated by local restaurateur Eric Wachter, owner of Eric Ericsson's Fish Co. in the Pierpont area of Ventura and co-owner of Pineapples, a restaurant at the ocean end of California Street.
Construction of the building, a wharf-style seafood eatery with decks wrapping around three sides, is expected to begin next month.
The pier restaurant will be one of only a handful of restaurants situated on the state's remaining historic piers, Wachter said. The Ventura Pier--at 1,958 feet--is the oldest and longest pier in California, and officials hope the restaurant will lure visitors to the 122-year-old landmark.
"It needs to be world-class," Wachter said, "something talked about up and down the coast . . . to make sense dollars-and-cents wise."
The 220-person-capacity restaurant will consist of a 4,000-square-foot dining area on the first floor and a 2,000-square-foot bar area on the upper level.
It is designed to have ample outside seating and open views of the ocean, Wachter said. The restaurant is expected to open by spring.