Iconic St. Augustine restaurant to see new life

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- An iconic restaurant on the First Coast may soon be renovated.

The Santa Maria Restaurant has been in St. Augustine for decades, but it could become a popular restaurant straight out of Key West.

The man behind the proposed changes – Pat Croce – spoke to First Coast News in his first on-camera interview about the project.

The Santa Maria restaurant sits by the municipal marina, next to the Bridge of Lions.

With excitement in his voice, Croce said, "It's not waterfront. It's on the water!"

Pat Croce is using his trademark enthusiasm in order to creating something new out of something old when it comes to the Santa Maria Restaurant. He wants to bring the concept from his wildly popular Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West to St. Augustine.

The idea is to "bring that same kind of fresh fish, shuckers-going-all-day, right on the Matanzas River so boats can pull up or people can walk down," Croce explained.

Croce is the former president of the Philadelphia 76ers, and he has fallen in love with St. Augustine in the last 5 years.

"I really got to love this city. Outside Philadelphia, I've adopted this city as my other home. I have a home here as well," Croce said.

He created and opened the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum in 2010 and then completely renovated the Colonial Quarter outdoor museum that opened in 2013.

Now he sees the Santa Maria as a gem to polish, with a much needed renovation.

"The opportunity for the Santa Maria is it's one of those iconic structures in the water that comes around once in a lifetime," he noted.

He doesn't own the property yet, but "I have the option. I have the letter of agreement and we're in the due diligence process as we speak."

He is dealing with city legalities and he's meeting with neighbors to discuss his plans for renovation, his goal of creating similar signage as that of the Santa Maria and to talk about adding a dock with 24 boat slips.

Croce may encounter some push back from those in the neighboring marina with the proposed dock, but Croce says he'll even shift its angle if that helps other boats with access.

Ultimately, he wants to simply add his take on a St. Augustine staple from the early 1900's.

"It's got great heritage. Why change that? Just accentuate and accelerate it," he said.

The project still needs to go through various levels of approval before it's finalized. One city meeting is Tuesday before the city's Planning and Zoning Board.


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