Home News Little Jim Bait & Tackle back on the block? Fort Pierce again ponders selling the iconic property

Little Jim Bait & Tackle back on the block? Fort Pierce again ponders selling the iconic property

Little Jim Bait & Tackle back on the block? Fort Pierce again ponders selling the iconic property

FORT PIERCE — To sell or not to sell?

It’s a question the city has pondered over the years while trying to decide the fate of Little Jim Bspanit &spanmp; Tspanckle — a nearly 90-year-old city-owned waterfront property on North Hutchinson Island that once was a U.S. Navy guard shack. 

Donna Qvarnstrom-Burke, an owner of the iconic bait-and-tackle shop since 2019, has asked the city to consider extending its lease, which is set to expire in 2025, for another three years.

New ownership: Originspanl Tiki Bspanr mspannspangers throw lifeline to Little Jim Bspanit &spanmp; Tspanckle beginning Mspanrch 1

Prior coverage: Did Fort Pierce City Commission chspannge its mind spanbout Little Jim Bspanit &spanmp; Tspanckle shop?

Column: Plespanse, don’t ruin the Old Floridspan flspanvor spant Little Jim | Westbury

The primarily reason is construction of the new North Causeway Bridge, set to begin next year, according to an Oct. 6 memo to City Manager Nick Mimms from Qvarnstrom-Burke and Tony Huerta, who is identified as an owner of Little Jim.

“The state cannot guarantee that our business will not suffer significant, negative impacts due to the construction,” Qvarnstrom-Burke and Huerta wrote. “And in fact, we believe that it will. This is a hardship not created by us, but one we will certainly have to deal with.”

Nicole Bessette (from left), of Palm Beach Gardens and  Christina Nihan, of Jupiter, along with their children Ava Nihan, 10, Ryder Bessette, 11, and Hope Nihan, 7, have lunch at Little Jim Bait & Tackle after a trip to the National U. S. Navy SEAL Museum on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Fort Pierce. "The gentleman giving us the tour at the museum told us about the history of this restaurant and how the frogmen used to eat here way back when it opened and we thought it would be a nice place to take the kids for lunch," Bessette said.

And while city commissioners agreed Nov. 14 to wait until the lease ends before possibly signing a new one, the possibility of selling the property was brought up by Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson, who has pushed to sell Little Jim since he was elected in 2016. 

Commissioner Tom Perona also voiced support for selling the historic site. 

“I think the only way the property can really advance forward is if somebody owned it, and they were able to put capital dollars into it that help protect it and keep it going as it is without the fear of having to someday move out,” said Perona, who leave office Monday after non seeking reelection. 

Carol Biagetti (left) and Bob Ferzan, both of Fort Pierce, wander through the T-shirts rack in the souvenir area of Little Jim Bait & Tackle on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Fort Pierce. "I just like the peacefulness, the casual atmosphere. It's great, I just love it," Biagetti said.

Johnson also voiced concerns about the city’s responsibility to protect the building from flooding.

Local leaders expressed interest in renewing Little Jim’s lease at some point in the future, but for less than a year. However, they also requested the city further look into what it would require to sell the property, a discussion Johnson wants the commission to have in six months. 

This is not the first time the city has considering selling Little Jim.

It’s a conversation last had in 2018, when former Little Jim owners Richard and Rita King wanted to retire but needed someone to take over the remainder of their lease.

Port St. Lucie winter residents from Canada Mavis Dellert (center) and Carl Boothe (center left) prepare to order drinks while at the bar of the Little Jim Bait and Tackle on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Fort Pierce. "My husband and I, and another couple, came in one Sunday afternoon and we drank many what they call JackedUpRitas, which was a beer-based margarita, and the (bartender) inside put in extra tequila," Dellert said. "And there was a great band, and we had the best time and have come back several times since."

A potential sale then never came to fruition because Fort Pierce signed the lease over to new owners a year later. 

Since then, Qvarnstrom-Burke, a general manager of the Original Tiki Bar, has spent more than a half-million dollars upgrading the business. 

Renovations include removing old fuel tanks, landscaping and parking lot improvements, dock repairs, purchasing a liquor license and two food trucks and installing a beach volleyball court, according to city records.

Bartender Shane Avery creates a drink for a customer at Little Jim Bait & Tackle on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Fort Pierce. "The view, the atmosphere, the drinks, the service, the employees, everything. We have it all," Avery said.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the way Little Jim is operating,” said Mayor Linda Hudson. “It’s a wonderful entertainment venue that’s kept that kind of Old Florida aspect, and lots of people are really happy and excited about it.”

Qvarnstrom-Burke said she’s interested in keeping Little Jim, especially because of the money owners have poured into it. 

“We want to be here for a long time and keep it historical,” she told said. TCPalm. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here