The historic Kelly’s Fish House property is on the market with an asking price of $19 million, but Naples’ oldest operating restaurant plans to continue doing business there.
Longtime owner Kelly Ellis wanted to keep the listing quiet because he wants it handled behind the scenes by listing agents Dave and David Wallace of CRE Consultants in Naples. A man of few words, Ellis doesn’t want to entertain looky-loos stopping by to kick the tires at the 1.34-acre waterfront property at 1302 Fifth Ave. S., which includes Kelly’s Fish House Dining Room, the attached Combs Fish Co. commercial fishery and the freestanding Kelly’s Shell Shack gift shop.
“It’s for sale because Kelly wants to take advantage of the expanding Naples market if he can,” said Dave Wallace, senior vice president of CRE Consultants. “Kelly’s restaurant will still be in business this season and will continue to operate.”
The prime space, directly across the water from the historic Tin City dining and shopping destination, is being marketed as a premier redevelopment site.
“With an impressive 220 feet of prime Naples Bay frontage providing direct Gulf of Mexico access, this property is truly exceptional,” reads the online marketing flyer for the property. “C2-A zoning offers an unparalleled opportunity for redevelopment, making it an ideal choice for various endeavors such as restaurants, mixed-use with residential components and diverse commercial uses. The strategic location, coupled with the convenience of a curb cut to U.S. 41, ensures high visibility and effortless access to downtown Naples.”
Of course, it’s not the first time the property has been targeted for redevelopment. Although detailed plans in 2017 ended up not materializing and Kelly’s remained open, it was prematurely announced that spring that Kelly’s was closing to make way for a three-story project by Naples developer Harry Zea. Kelly’s Landing, as it was to be called, planned to include Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille as a ground-floor venue with underground parking and two upper floors of condominiums.
But the oldest continually operating restaurant in Naples has stayed open by the same longtime family owners and marked its 70th anniversary within the last year.
“It hasn’t officially been on the market,” Wallace said. “This is the first time this has been on the market in seven or eight years. Just being for sale doesn’t mean the restaurant is going to close.”
All three rustic business components on the property are notable, especially for their longevity. Launched by Bob and Pat Combs, the 2,788-square-foot fish company and seafood restaurant have operated under the Gordon River bridge since 1952 or 1953. The 3,488-square-foot Shell Shack also has been in business for decades. Despite repairs for hurricane damage, the local venues provide a throwback to Old Florida’s simpler times.
Ellis, 78, and his family have operated the local businesses for more than 50 years. His stepfather took over what is now the oldest operating commercial fishing company in the late ‘50s. His mother, Kelly McGill, took over The Fish House Dining Room in 1971, renaming the local restaurant Kelly’s Fish House Dining Room.
The nearby waterfront area has seen its share of redevelopment in the last 15 years. Naples Bay Resort & Marina replaced the historic Boat Haven marina and The’s Waterfront Cafe, and the Hyatt House hotel on the north side of the bridge was built on the former site of the longtime Joe’s Crab Shack.
“The Naples waterfront value is the real play,” Wallace said. “It’s supply and demand.”
Towne Centre changes
Q: About two years ago you said Denny’s was opening where the Rib City was at the Naples Towne Centre South shopping center on Tamiami Trail East. Also at that shopping center, B&B Naples Towne Centre 6 closed at the end of September. I am not sure if you posted anything about that. — H.S., Naples
A: As first reported last November, Denny’s is being built out in the freestanding space that formerly was Rib City in Naples Towne Centre South at 3871 U.S. 41 E. in East Naples.
Originally targeted to open this spring, that new location of Denny’s is looking to launch in January, said Vic Cuda, vice president and chief operating officer of RREMC Restaurants, a company headquartered in West Palm Beach that is one of the largest Denny’s franchisees in the nation. Although Denny’s has multiple locations in Lee County, the East Naples restaurant will be the first in Southwest Florida for RREMC, which operates 18 Denny’s in Florida.
The local opening will reintroduce the national casual dining concept to the Naples market after more than 15 years. Collier County’s only location for Denny’s closed in early 2007 after operating for more than 15 years at 3350 U.S. 41 N., now home to Blueberry’s restaurant.
The Fort Myers-based Rib City chain permanently closed its East Trail location in the summer of 2020 after operating it for more than 20 years.
In a 19,000-square-foot inline space behind the future Denny’s in that same shopping center, Sunday, Sept. 24, was the last day of operation for B&B Theatres’ Towne Centre 6 cinema. The six-screen movie theater at 3855 Tamiami Trail E. operated for more than 35 years. Launched as Cobb Movies Towne Centre 6 when the retail center opened in 1987, the cinema later was owned by Regal before B&B Theatres took it over in 2012.
RMC Property Group, the owner of the retail center, does not have a new tenant yet for the vacated space but it’s possible that it could be another movie theater, said RMC leasing executive Luli Cannon.
“We’re looking at all options and we do have some prospects,” Cannon said.
Missouri-based B&B Theatres, the fifth largest cinema chain in the nation, operates more than 50 cinemas with a total of more than 500 screens in 14 states, including 24 cinemas in Missouri and 10 in Kansas. The Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel is its last location in Florida.
By the way, B&B stands for Bills and Bagby, the surnames of two families which both launched movie theaters. The history of B&B is traced to 1924 when Elmer Bills Sr. founded Bills Theatres in Missouri. It joined forces in 1980 with the Bagby Traveling Picture Show, which Sterling Bagby also started in Missouri.
The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers. Email Tim at email@example.com.