A waterfront restaurant in Morro Bay is being forced to close to make way for a pocket park and new development — but its well-known boat-shaped building may have a chance at being preserved.
Dockside 3, owned by Mark Tognazzini, opened in 2013 in a well-known building along Morro Bay’s waterfront. Monday, Sept. 3, will be the restaurant’s last day of operation.
“We have no choice. It’s not that we want to close. It’s been a successful little spot with great revenue,” Tognazzini said.
Tognazzini opened the first Dockside restaurant along the Embarcadero in 2004. Two years later, they opened Dockside Too. Dockside 3 was the latest and greatest addition, not only serving seafood but smokehouse grilled food as well.
The restaurant closure comes as Togazzini’s lease with property lease owner Bob Fowler is nearing its end.
Plans to demolish the ship and build a new structure have been in the works since 2007, prior to Fowler purchasing the property.
The building, originally built in the 1950s by Virg Moores, was leased and operated by Mike Degarimore, who ran the Finicky Fish Market, according to Sharon Moores. It was also formerly home to the Thai Boat restaurant.
Fowler’s new 5,800-square-foot development will house the Morro Bay Landing and Grassy Bar Oyster Co. A restaurant space and two retail spaces are currently available in the future structure.
The property will also have a pocket park for public use with benches and a walkway, Fowler said.
Despite knowing Fowler’s long-term goal, Tognazzini said he had hoped to buy the land and keep his seafood and smokehouse restaurant in the building. Over the past five years, he tried to convince Fowler and the city that the building is an important feature to the city’s character.
“We were convinced that the city would understand the value of the building. It’s iconic,” Tognazzini said. “There was just no effort to understand.”
Tognazzini also said he thought the city would support him because it earns 3 percent of all food sales and 5 percent of all alcohol sales at the restaurant.
“If nothing is done, the bulldozers will come, the dust will settle, the city will have less income, someone will forever have to maintain the pocket park and we will have lost part of the vitality and heritage that makes Morro Bay the special place it is,” Tognazzini wrote in a letter he sent to Morro Bay City Council members and the Planning Commission.
For the most part, the letter fell upon deaf ears, he said.
According to Fowler, part of his agreement when he purchased the lease to the property was to complete the new building plans by July 2019.
“It’s been through 11 years of planning, and it can’t just be undone now,” he said.
Fowler said he offered Tognazzini a space for Dockside 3 in the new building, but Tognazzini declined for financial reasons.
Had he taken the offer, he would have had to “outfit the space,” furnishing it with expensive restaurant equipment. Tognazzini said he would rather invest the money in his other two existing restaurants.
All of the employees at Dockside 3 will be absorbed into Dockside and Dockside Too, which Tognazzini said “are running strong and not going anywhere.”
“We have too many good staff there,” he said. “No one is going to lose their job.”
Preserving the boat
Although the restaurant will close, Fowler is not opposed to the idea of preserving the building, so long as it is not on his property.
Morro Bay Historical Society member Joan Solu said she reached out to Fowler a little over a month ago and the historical society is now trying to work out a plan with the city to move the building. The society has began conversations with city officials, but no official agreement has been reached yet.
“When the president of the historical society announced that the Finicky Fish was being demolished, there were probably 60 people in the room and you could hear an audible gasp,” Solu said. “When he followed it up with news of our attempt to preserve the building, everyone applauded.”
The society is in the works of piecing together more information about the building’s history.
“It’s very Morro Bay. We have the rock, we have the stacks, we have the little boat building,” she said.
Fowler said he is ready to move forward with demolition as soon as Oct. 1, but if the historical society can come up with funding and city approval by Oct. 15, he will allow them to preserve the building. He even said he would donate to the cause.
Solu said the historical society is asking for donations and needs at least $30,000 just for the move.
If approved and funded, the society intends to re-purpose the boat into the Morro Bay Historical Society Museum and Morro Bay Visitor Center. The society has hoped to have a museum for 25 years and felt that this may be an opportunity for them to finally pursue that goal.
They would like the building to be located near the Maritime Museum if possible, but no location has been confirmed as they have not yet discussed their idea with the city officially.
“The devil is certainly in the details,” Morro Bay Planning Commission’s Community Development Director Scot Graham said. “I think (preserving the building) is in the realm of the possible, for sure.”
“The short amount of time might be their biggest hurdle,” he added.
Correction: The article has been updated with a more accurate time line of when the building was built and by which family. The Moores family built the boat building in the 1950s.
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