The City of Omaha has launched a bid to take over the old Rick's Cafe Boatyard and push its operator out.
The city attorney said Wednesday that Rick Albrecht, the restaurant's operator, would be served this week with notice that he defaulted on his 30-year lease agreement with the city.
That signals the likely start of a legal battle as the city tries to reclaim control of the 1.3-acre site.
Earlier this week, Albrecht listed the property for sale, surprising city officials who are courting potential new tenants for the shuttered restaurant at Lewis & Clark Landing that closed abruptly in January.
Albrecht told The World-Herald on Wednesday that he is still interested in keeping the restaurant running but is also looking at other options.
“I'm just seeing if it's of interest to anybody else,” he said.
Albrecht added that he is working with the city, but he declined to answer further questions.
While Albrecht owns the restaurant business, the city owns the property and has authority through the lease to control many restaurant operations. If the agreement is terminated, Albrecht loses any claim to the property, according to the terms of the lease.
City Attorney Paul Kratz said the notice of default would cite a provision in Albrecht's lease that allows the deal to end “in the event of removal or closing of the Restaurant.”
The lease says Albrecht is to “immediately vacate the Restaurant and cease all operation and control of the use of the Restaurant” once the lease is terminated and return the property to the city.
The city is likely to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks asking a court to approve the forcible takeover of the restaurant.
City officials have long counted on the riverfront restaurant to anchor new development along the Missouri River.
The Lerner Co. listed the land for sale for $2.75 million, though there's doubt in City Hall that Albrecht has authority to sell the site. The Douglas County Assessor's Office valued the 1.3-acre site at $1.68 million last year.
City legal officials have informed the Lerner Co. that the site's lease is in default, Kratz said.
It's not clear whether it was appropriate for Albrecht to list the property for sale or lease, said Greg Lemon, director of the Nebraska Real Estate Commission.
Lindsay Killough, one of two Lerner agents included on the listing, said that the company would not comment on the situation.
“We're just representing the owners,” she said.
It's not clear what information Albrecht provided to the Lerner Co. about the property's status or his legal right to put it up for sale or lease.
The restaurant has faced problems in recent years, including flood threats from the Missouri River and unpaid taxes. Albrecht still owes more than $35,000 in property taxes from 2011.
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