It is Tony Antonious’ contention that the town of Redington Shores has “declared war” on him.
Antonious, 72, has owned the 1,200-foot Redington Long Pier since 1999. Charles Redington himself built the historic fishing structure – and seven others, all gone now – in the early ‘60s.
The Gulf of Mexico landmark has fallen into disrepair, and Antonious voluntarily closed it last spring after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection deemed it unsafe. He can’t afford the $400,000 or so needed to fix it, nor the $300,000 it would take to tear it down.
So he put the pier, and its potholed Gulf Boulevard parking lot, on the market for $6.5 million.
But the pier and the lot are zoned for recreational use. And until the town approves a change in zoning – for commercial use – no one is buying.
Antonious maintains he submitted the zoning application and paid the requisite fee. Redington Shores, in other media reports, has said that he didn’t. He says it’s a “scam.”
He’s about to submit it all again, he says, but he’s certain they’ll kick it back at him, somehow.
“The bank has it under foreclosure,” Antonious explains. “I have it for sale, but finding a buyer is not the solution. I have many buyers, but I need the zoning change.”
Here’s the rub: Even though the parking lot is solid-gold real estate – there’s hardly an inch of Redington beachfront not currently dominated by pricey homes or condo towers – it’s off-limits to developers. And the buyer is going to have to deal, one way or another, with a run-down fishing pier in the back yard.
Antonious has deduced that the town is waiting for the bank to foreclose, so they can get it cheap. “They want to take it for nothing,” he says.
Reached at Town Hall for this story, Redington Shores town clerk Mary Palmer declined to reply to Antonious’ statements. Because of potential lawsuits, she explained, “we’ve been advised by our attorney not to make any comments.”
In a subsequent phone conversation, attorney James Denhardt said the same thing.
‘It’s your town, and your people want it’
Antonious, who is of Greek/Egyptian descent, moved to the area in 1972. A prosperous tax accountant, he made a success of himself; he and his wife, Sue, raised their children here.
In 1999, the heirs of pier owner Ernie Trotek put the structure, which was showing signs of structural wear and tear, up for sale. Because the pier was a local institution, residents had fond childhood memories, and a vocal “Save the Pier” campaign was launched.
Enter Tony Antonoius, who was about to run for mayor and was feeling supremely civic.
He and a handful of investors paid $1.5 million for the property in 2000. “I did it for politics, and to save it for the community,” Antonious says. “It was not my intention to keep it.”
After he lost the election, he says, “I went to [city hall] and I said ‘Hey, I saved the pier from the contractor. Take it over from me. It’s your town, and your thing, and your people want it.’” He asked Redington Shores for $1.8 million. The town declined. Suddenly, he was an accountant who owned an old fishing pier.
“I underestimated the expense needed to save it,” Antonious says. “I thought once I fixed the pier, everything was going to be fine. But it was constant construction. I kept taking loan after loan after loan. I put in everything I had – and my close friends and clients’ money, too.”
Initially, he’d close his property every Fourth of July for the town to launch its fireworks display from the pierhead. He lost money on the most lucrative of beach holidays, he explains, so he cancelled the operation after three years.
After that, he contends, Town Hall began a steady campaign of nit-picking. “We’ve been in court five, six times for different problems. Every time I change a faucet, or I put in a few nails, I have to get a permit. Basically, I have to get a permit twice a day to run my business.”
In 2015, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the town did not have the authority to fine Antonious because the pier is technically on state land (he pays $6,000 annually in “water lease” fees).
“My landlord,” Antonious declares, “is the state. The city’s authority stops at that fence at the end of the parking lot. Once you hit the sand, it’s the state.”
The pier underwent an extensive renovation in 2007.
Ten years later, Hurricane Irma inflicted more damage than new boards and a pocketful of nails could fix. Antonious simply didn’t have the money needed for such massive repairs. Today, the bait shop and restrooms remain open, but everything past that midway point is closed to the public.
“They said ‘We asked him to fix it before, and he refused.’ I didn’t refuse! I’m not financially able to fix it. I put the state on notice, I put the town on notice – this way, if something happens I’m not responsible. I can’t even walk to the end to put up the navigational lights.”
Until the zoning change comes through – if it ever comes through – Antonious is on pins and needles. And his disbelief is palpable.
“I carried those boards on my shoulders,” he says. “I dug sand and I poured concrete. I cleaned the bathrooms every day for the customers. I did everything, to save money.
“If City Hall does anything, they should put a statue of me in the parking lot. For the things I did, and sacrificed, and I put this over my kids’ education, and my grandchildren. I actually borrowed money from them to help their pier.”