Seven months after a wooden deck collapsed into Biscayne Bay, plunging dozens of diners into murky, shallow water, an effort to rebuild by the owners of Shuckers Bar & Grill is being delayed by an insurance company that wants to piece those frantic moments back together.
Late last week, barges with large hoists finally began to clear the still-cluttered waters behind the North Bay Village attraction.
The plan is to transfer the salvaged wooden deck pieces and concrete seawall to an upland warehouse, where forensics experts would try to rebuild it as close as possible to its old self.
Although Shuckers owners Charles Grentner and his son Chris have refused interview requests since the June incident, several people with knowledge of the rebuilding process have confirmed that the insurance company representing Shuckers convinced the owners to make efforts to clear and restore the debris field before rebuilding.
“The issue is the insurance company wouldn’t let them remove the debris,” said interim North Bay Village Manager Frank Rollason. “Chris told me that’s the plan — taking the big pieces to a warehouse and putting it back together.”
Personal injury attorney Spencer Aronfeld, who represents several of the victims who have filed 10 civil lawsuits in Miami-Dade Circuit Court since the incident, said that rebuilding the deck could give the defendants an opportunity to find out what caused the collapse.
The Grentners and their attorney John F. Kennedy didn’t return phone calls or respond to questions through their publicist Seth Gordon. Legal records obtained by Aronfeld show that CRC Insurance Services Inc. and First Specialty Insurance Corp. represent Inn on the Bay and Inn on North Bay Ltd., which own Shuckers and and the attached Best Western Hotel. Calls to the insurance companies were not returned.
Aronfeld said he believes the court disputes will be resolved. He said dialogue with the representatives of Shuckers has been “positive.” One of his clients who was on the deck when it collapsed had a series of facial plastic surgeries just before the New Year.
The Grentners have secured the permits necessary to rebuild, North Bay Village records show.
The upland interior of the popular sports restaurant will look similar but have a new bar. Foundations holding up the roof and canopy will be replaced, and the retaining wall along the water will be raised. The deck over the water will remain the same size — 30 feet by 120 feet — but it will be concrete instead of wood.
Miami-Dade County has approved the deck plans over the water, and North Bay Village has approved plans for the other sections of the facility. North Bay Village inspectors have been watching the reconstruction carefully and signing off as it goes along, said inspector Michael Arronte.
“They’ve been cooperating with the city a lot and have provided all the documents requested,” Arronte said. “As a matter of fact, they’ve been pushing us.”
Yet the water behind the restaurant at 1819 79th Street Cswy. remains a debris field. Although the seawall has new wood pilings, large chunks of the deck, concrete and steel remain submerged and visible. Large, rusted fans tilt perilously from parts of the broken deck. Yellow police tape is torn and strewn about.
The Grentners are important property owners in tiny North Bay Village, whose 7,000 residents live on a spit of land on the 79th Street Causeway between Miami Beach and the mainland. Shuckers, and the nearby Best Western hotel that the Grentners also own, pays about $60,000 a year in taxes. The hotel didn’t close after the collapse and remains open.
As important as the tax base, the popular sports bar is one of only a few on the bay’s calm waters in Miami-Dade, and Shuckers is probably North Bay Village’s main attraction. Aronfeld, the injury attorney, said he has received calls from Shuckers patrons begging him to refrain from trying to delay construction.
“Apparently, this neighborhood establishment has a cult-like following,” he said.
Shuckers’ popularity was never more evident than on June 13, when the restaurant was packed with Miami Heat fans watching a finals playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs.
At 9:48 p.m., as the Heat were completing a furious comeback just before halftime, a loud cheer was followed by a train-like roar, then deafening silence, as the deck split in half in a V-formation and tore away from the concrete seawall.
In a few seconds, dozens of Shuckers patrons found themselves standing or sprawled in the bay’s waist-deep water amid tons of broken wood, concrete and steel. Remarkably, there were no deaths, though close to 100 people pulled from the water by Shuckers employees and first responders suffered cuts, bruises and some broken bones. Dozens were transported to area hospitals.
The unfolding events played out nationally, with Heat players sending get-well wishes and speaking about the sports bar on national television after the game.
Six months prior to the collapse, the property had been inspected by engineer Steven Jawitz, who didn’t inspect the deck — he said there was no requirement in the building code to do so. North Bay Village officials were stunned at Jawitz’s response, even after learning that city building official Raul Rodriguez had signed off on the inspection.
A further look into the incident by the Miami Herald found that deck inspections in South Florida were few and far between, required only 40 years after a deck over water is built, and then once a decade after that.
Rollason, the interim manager, said city officials have determined that the calculations in the rebuilding plans submitted by the Grentners more than meet code requirements. He said the debris in the bay should be cleared by the end of January, after which the deck can be rebuilt. Arronte, the inspector, speculated that if that’s the case, Shuckers could be in good shape by sometime this coming summer, and certainly by the end of the year.
“For what they have to have, it’ll probably be the safest deck in South Florida,” Rollason said.