A beloved Sandusky landmark damaged by fire and plagued by legal tussles finally will rise from the ashes.
Margaritaville will open for business Friday after an almost $1 million renovation. The popular bar at 212 Fremont Ave. will operate despite a $645,000 property lien filed against owner Bob Crawford by Dean Willard, owner of DDB&S Inc.
"Since May we've been working on (remodeling) 24/7," Crawford said. "It's a complete makeover. It gives you a Key West feeling."
New features include a granite bar that seats 23, a dance floor, a revamped dining area with salmon-colored walls and furnishings, and a remodeled kitchen and restrooms. Crawford said a stone wall is all that remains of the old decor.
"It's up from the dead," he said. "I think the locals will appreciate it. The locals are the ones we did it for."
The building exterior was not damaged, so outside improvements were limited to the deck, Crawford added.
The business was ravaged by a July 18, 2007, electrical fire that caused almost $300,000 damage to the interior.
Crawford bought the restaurant just two months before the fire and had sunk $130,000 into improvements.
"When I came here (after the fire) it was gone," he said. "I didn't know if I should just shut it down and walk away from it or put it back together."
Support from the city and residents convinced him there was interest in reviving it.
"There are people from before my time who stop in because this is their stop," Crawford said.
Support also came by e-mail from singer Jimmy Buffett, who encouraged Crawford to re-open. Local legend has it Buffett penned his signature song, "Margaritaville," over drinks there.
Some members of the previous staff will return, including manager Heather Braden.
"It is a complete makeover. It's awesome," she said. "We used to call it a dungeon atmosphere. Now it's more lively. But it will still be a laid-back, fun atmosphere. That's what keeps people coming."
A targeted June opening was delayed by legal issues. Construction was halted when Willard also filed a nearly $3 million civil suit against Crawford over ownership rights after negotiating to purchase the property. Crawford counter-sued, but both suits were dismissed in June.
Crawford's attorney, David Zoll, said negotiations to acquire the business never progressed beyond discussions, but Willard became offended at not being publicly acknowledged as the owner.
"Just because you talk to someone about buying the place doesn't mean you own it," Zoll said.
He said the lien filed by Willard to collect on contracted services is pending, but he expects it to be dismissed.