Charlotte just cut Showmars a big break on its rent at the government center

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Anna Douglas/The Charlotte Observer
Showmars has been the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center’s exclusive lessee for restaurant space for nearly 20 years.

Showmars’ “World Famous Fish Sandwich” and gyro pitas will still be served, for now at least, inside the uptown Charlotte government building — a majority of city council members approved a deep break in rent for the restaurant this week.

The Charlotte-based chain says its location inside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center is losing money each month. On Monday night, the council voted to approve a rent reduction — from $3,000 a month to $500 — for the remaining two years of Showmars’ lease at 600 E. 4th St.

With the change, the city council also voted to remove an existing renewal option in Showmars’ lease, which means the restaurant and the city will need to renegotiate terms if the location is to remain beyond 2021.

Ground floor restaurant/retail

But several council members said Monday they are interested in either opening up the ground floor retail/restaurant space to multiple vendors or rethinking the restaurant-style model.

Tony Korolos, director of real estate for the city, said a past attempt to have multiple food vendors for city hall employees and visitors resulted in complaints about food quality and long lines. Showmars’ lease stipulates food trucks and other competitors may only operate at the government center for breakfast or lunch for a maximum of five days each year.

The Showmars location in the government center primarily serves city and county employees and visitors, such as jurors and others going to city offices and the nearby courthouse. But the restaurant, which has been the exclusive lessee inside the government center since 1999, says it makes little to no profit from the location.

Due to limited operating hours of the government building, the restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday. Other Showmars locations in Charlotte open on weekends and serve dinner, too.

In asking for a rent reduction, the restaurant cited the city’s 2012 move to install security checkpoints for the government center, coinciding with the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte. The restaurant lost nearly 30 percent of its sales after the security stops were put in place, city officials said Monday.

Discount for government center employees

Before the meeting, council member Ed Driggs told The Charlotte Observer he supports reducing Showmars’ rent because having an on-site restaurant is an amenity for city workers and likely more cost-efficient than turning the nearly 4,700-square-foot space over to a cafeteria vendor.

Showmars offers government center employees a 10% discount and recently scored high on a survey of city employee satisfaction with the restaurant.

Driggs said that Showmars founder George Couchell is an “old friend” but that the relationship did not affect his judgment on the lease vote.

‘Maybe we should go another route’

Council member Braxton Winston said he isn’t sure the city should subsidize restaurant operations through rent breaks. Winston equated the move to the city picking winners and losers.

“If that business model doesn’t work, maybe we should go another route,” Winston said, adding the government center’s first floor has more potential than its current use. Winston said he’d like to see the building’s entrance be more useful for residents and visitors, and could perhaps house a rotation of pop-up eateries or food trucks.

Winston, along with council member LaWana Mayfield, voted against reducing Showmars’ rent.

For more details, read the full story at The Charlotte Observer.

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