What's next for Jannus Landing?

SO HOW DID Jannus Landing get into this mess? In many respects, the venue was an unlikely success story, a ragtag, makeshift space that over the years became a go-to place for concertgoers of literally all ages. Its recent downfall has set the rumor mill abuzz, caused confusion and disappointment among devotees, and erased a major source of traffic for nearby businesses. While the troubles at Baywalk have made regular headlines in the mainstream press, the darkness at Jannus, just a couple of blocks south, has been a far more pressing concern to music fans and arguably as important a problem for downtown overall.

A contingent of St. Pete’s concert insiders, some of whom requested anonymity, laid the demise of Jannus Landing squarely at Bodziak’s feet. When asked if Jannus Landing failed because of mismanagement, the resounding answer was: Yes.

[image-1]What’s next for Jannus Landing? On Oct. 23, Knight, 47 (right), struck a deal to take over the venue. He appears to have weathered the first blush of external doubt, and is convincing in his intent to restore Jannus Landing to its status as a busy concert venue, one with a much-improved infrastructure and vastly upgraded aesthetics and amenities. He laid out his master plan recently, right down to the color of the floor in front of the stage and the ounces of liquor in a mixed drink (1.25). And if all goes well, the wait for Jannus Landing’s return won’t be long.

As for Bodziak, 37, he steadfastly maintains that Jannus Landing was felled by a bad economy, that he did everything he could to keep it afloat. He declined to discuss his legal woes or specifics about his financial situation. During a 40-minute phone interview, he came off by turns defiant, upbeat, contrite and, yes, a little bitter.

“In a 12-year span, for 10 years we had a great run,” he said, “a lot more good times than bad times. The people throwing dirt on me now were the first people to pat me on the back and say I was a great guy. They made a lot of money working with me, and now it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ ‘Well, I paid your mortgage for the last decade.’ It’s been an unfortunate lesson for me that when times are bad you find out who your true friends are.”

IN THE LATE 1970s, the city of St. Petersburg rehabbed a fatigued block at First Avenue N. and Second Street, and named it after aviation pioneer Tony Jannus. Offices, small retailers and a handful of restaurants and clubs set up shop at Jannus Landing, but its central courtyard went essentially unused. In 1984, owners Bob Barnes and Bill Pendergast opened the courtyard to small-time promoters presenting punk and reggae shows.

Rob Douglas had run a successful concert enterprise at Tierra Verde Island Resort, and after it closed promoted a handful of concerts at Jannus Landing. Barnes and Pendergast hired Douglas to run the joint and its adjacent nightspot, the Club Detroit.

In the latter half of the ’80s and into the ’90s, Jannus Landing bloomed. Transcending its value as a concert destination, the courtyard proved that youth and counterculture could gain a foothold in sleepy St. Pete. It became a home away from home for music fiends and the local bands that performed there regularly. Folks didn’t much care about its lack of seating or that the restrooms were a travesty. The place resonated an urban shabby chic that suited the clientele just fine.

[image-2]Over the years, Jannus Landing routinely hosted landmark concerts in this market: King Sunny Ade, the area’s first major performance by an African artist; an unlikely but brilliant double bill of the Neville Brothers and cult favorite Was (Not Was); raucous sets by The Ramones, The Replacements, Green Day, Iggy Pop (right); area debuts by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction (opening for Love and Rockets), Pearl Jam and Radiohead.

In December of 1989, a rowdy show by the Chili Peppers drew several thousand dollars in noise ordinance fines, putting the venue’s future in jeopardy. But when the City Council held an open forum on Jannus Landing’s fate, more than 100 supporters turned out, dozens spoke on its behalf, and the city fathers relented, revamping the noise ordinance and allowing the concerts to continue.

Douglas operated the venue with essentially an all-comers philosophy. He booked a certain amount of shows with the financial backing of Barnes and Pendergast, and also made Jannus Landing available to outside promoters, most notably No Clubs Productions, headed by Tony Rifugiato and Dave Hundley. “The promoters in this market played well in the same sandbox,” Douglas says. “We looked out for each other.”

Co-promotions between different companies were common. Douglas was open to outside promoters because it alleviated his risk in terms of ticket sales while guaranteeing the coffers would benefit from bar revenue. “You don’t want every show,” Douglas says in a near bellow. “Sometimes you let another person assume the risk with the act, you settle for the bar [income] and at least there is a show going on in your place.”

Douglas, along with his co-op of promoters, shepherded Jannus Landing through most of the 1990s. He says the business model flourished in large part because “Barnes left the place alone. He wrote the checks and yelled at you if you fucked up.”

AFTER GRADUATING from University of Florida with a degree in finance in 1995, John C. “Jack” Bodziak purchased the Jannus Landing block with a group of investors, including his father, architect John A. “Jack” Bodziak. They paid $3 million. By 1998, the younger Bodziak was running the concert business. He kept Douglas on, valuing his experience. Bodziak soon bought out his partners and brought in new cohorts Dan Harvey, owner of Harvey’s 4th Street Grill, and Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s on Sunset Beach. Amico ended up owning 90 percent of the actual Jannus Landing property. Bodziak retained 10 percent and paid Amico rent to run his concert business there. Neither Harvey nor Amico responded to requests for comment for this story.

At first, Bodziak and Douglas made a good team: Jack, the gregarious one, generous with comp tickets, ready to hoist a drink with friends and customers; Rob, who could be cranky, the nuts-and-bolts guy with an eye on the bottom line and the long term. Plus, Douglas said, Bodziak heeded his counsel: which shows to go after, which ones to pass on, how much to pay, et al.

That lasted about a year. Douglas says that when Bodziak became confident in booking his own shows, he took more and more control and increasingly disregarded his advice.

Insiders say that Bodziak dismantled the culture of cooperation that had ruled the Jannus Landing scene. “Instead of letting us have the show at a reasonable price,” says No Clubs’ Dave Hundley, “he might raise the offer ’cause he wanted all the shows at Jannus to be his. Sometimes the [booking] agent would make the first call to Jack figuring he would get a better offer. And we didn’t communicate with each other or work together, so agents could pull us at both ends. That would raise the cost of the show, so that you’d have to draw that many more people or raise ticket prices. It hurt business all the way around.”

Folks in the St. Petersburg concert scene say that Bodziak’s fatal flaw, as it were, was his desire to be the big swingin’ dick of the downtown St. Pete entertainment scene. His guest lists were often enormous — sometimes in excess of 100 people, Douglas says — which cut into the bottom line. One security guy had an “I know Jack” T-shirt made, suggesting that a simple namedrop could gain free admission.

Bodziak did not content himself with just presenting shows at Jannus Landing. He branched out into other ventures, some successful — the Bishop Tavern, which Bodziak sold — others disastrous, like Hammerheads on Second Street across from Baywalk, a restaurant that lasted just a few months. He also acquired, or acquired interests in, State Theatre, The Garage and Durty Nelly’s. As part of the Jannus complex, he owned the Tamiami Bar, Pelican Pub and Detroit Liquors.

For a while, Bodziak’s “playground,” as Douglas characterizes it, paid off. But in late 2007, the concert business started to show signs of slippage. Douglas, who promoted his own shows at Jannus and other venues, adopted a cautious approach. He suggested Bodziak do the same.

Nevertheless, Bodziak continued his aggressive booking. “He would bring the same act back within a year, which was too soon, and sometimes pay more,” Douglas explains. “He brought Wu Tang Clan in, and the first time it went over big. But then he booked them two more times within about two years, and the last time we got killed. Similar scenarios occurred with George Clinton and The Go-Gos. He was just churning it, hoping to hit a homerun.”

LOSSES MOUNTED. Bills went unpaid. Some remain unpaid. According to St. Petersburg Billing and Collections Director Richard Bulger, Bodziak-owned companies owe the city $28,971.42 for services and co-sponsorships. According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s website, Jannus Landing Courtyard Inc., Bodziak’s company, owes Premier Beverage Company for six invoices totaling $18,678.25. Bodziak also owes Creative Loafing $22,622.50 in advertising buys accrued from March through July, says CL publisher Sharry Smith.

Most of Jannus Landing’s problems flew under the radar until May 27, when state agents arrested Bodziak and charged him with grand theft. The Florida Department of Revenue said he didn’t turn over $208,418 in sales tax collected at different times between June 2004 and July 2007.

Promoters quickly moved shows to the Ritz and elsewhere for fear Jannus Landing could be padlocked at any minute. The venue limped along for a couple of months enshrouded in a dark cloud. On Oct. 23, with Bodziak facing an eviction hearing brought by Amico, an investment group headed by Jeff Knight stepped in and bought Bodziak out. None of the involved parties would provide details.

The sales tax case is still pending. Bodziak deferred comment to his attorney, Donald Anderson III, who said, “Prior to charges having been filed, we were aware of issues with the Department of Revenue. We have entered into an agreement with the Department of Revenue, which we intend to abide by and are hopeful that it will allow us to resolve the criminal matters.”

Bodziak did speak somewhat freely about outside allegations of his mismanagement.

Regarding his attempts to control all the shows that came into Jannus Landing, outbidding other promoters and thus driving up prices, Bodziak said, “I did not try to exclude anyone. Yes, I was very aggressive about booking shows in-house and over the last decade it resulted in a huge increase in the amount of shows and quality of shows. I wasn’t trying to steal anyone’s shows. Agents call you; I don’t know who has an offer in, but if they were planning on putting it in a venue other than Jannus Landing, I might outbid because I have the bar [revenue].”

As to the notion that Jannus Landing suffered because he spread himself thin by starting new businesses, he responded, “There were times when I had a lot of businesses at one time, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jannus Landing was losing money, and if I only owned Jannus Landing, it would have still been losing money over the last two years.”

Regarding his no longer running Jannus Landing, he said, “It’s a tough business. When the economy turned south, things got very tough and it managed to suck some of the fun out of it. Everyone’s losing sight of the fact that for 10 years the venue did really well. Now that I’ve been hurt by the recession, [people want to say] it’s about my lack of management skills and my ego.”

[image-3]ON THE BROILING Friday afternoon before Halloween, Jannus Landing hummed with busy people. A backhoe was parked in the middle of the courtyard. The facelift was underway. Jeff Knight, clad in a tight-fitting gray T-shirt, jeans and black cowboy boots, played tour guide, painstakingly walking me through the property and pointing out the new features, many already in progress. Gesturing at the activity, he said with a smile, “I don’t mess around.”

I had shown up with no small amount of incredulity. According to media reports, Knight was intending to add a tiki bar, turn the Tamiami into a sushi joint and, of all things, install luxury suites. Huh? It didn’t add up. And I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. Longtime local musician Brian Merrill (currently of The Ditchflowers) has performed many times on the Jannus stage and attended countless shows there. He said the grittiness of his favorite concert spot was part of its charm. Merrill had heard about Knight’s plans and wondered, “Will it be Jannus Landing anymore?”

Our tour started at the luxury suites. Situated in the long-neglected building on the west side, opposite the stage, the three units were framed out and ready for drywall. You could see how they would turn into private suites with access to the balcony.

The tour continued:

• Exterior walls will get new stucco or paint.

• The stage will be outfitted with a wrought iron rig that enables the in-house P.A. to loom well above the stage, like those at major concerts. The rig will also have a retractable canvas top that can extend about halfway into the courtyard or leave the stage completely uncovered. The dreaded poles that held up the old circus-style tent will be gone. (That's the pole in the center of the photo above of Knight and his management team.)

• The once-crude restrooms (with the piss trough in the men’s room) will be ditched and new ones built indoors in the southwest corner of what was the Tamiami Bar.

• The courtyard floor, which had devolved into a hazardous amalgam of cracked concrete and brick, will be leveled and covered with grippy concrete in a blue-green color.

• A new sound system will go in, one that Knight says will have the capacity for SurroundSound.

• The rickety bar along the north side goes, replaced by a patio bar in the back. It will be augmented by mobile bar stations.

• An elaborate system of LED lights will flash throughout the venue.

IN ADDITION to the overhaul of Jannus Landing, the Pelican Pub will be transformed into a cozy sports bar with flat-screen TVs. The Tamiami will become Pure Sake, a sushi bar (with no kitchen) that will turn into an upscale club in the later hours. Detroit Liquors is in line for a serious upgrade as well.

Although he calls himself “the mystery guy” in downtown St. Pete entertainment circles, Knight appears to have the wherewithal to see his grand vision through. He owns Clearwater-based Knight Enterprises — a telecommunications contractor that primarily installs cable systems — which he says has about 1,000 employees. He also co-owns Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island. A local resident for 25 years, he had been a regular concertgoer at Jannus Landing.

Addressing concerns that he wants to turn Jannus into some sort of upscale poser emporium, Knight said, “I intend to keep the tradition, the spirit, of the place, but make significant improvements. I never intended to make it a Miami/South Beach environment. I want to cater to the people who live and work here. I don’t want the riffraff, but people shouldn’t think it’s going to be some big-ticket elitist place.”

To that end, he pledges to keep drink prices to $5-$6.

Knight is comfortable with the build-out aspect of Jannus Landing’s rebirth, but his experience in presenting concerts is virtually nil. At this point, Douglas is not involved, but Knight has “put a team together, and part of that is putting together the shows, buying the talent right. We have an actual concert budget, money set aside for programming.”

Tom Nestor — who has promoted small shows in the area, has a flyering business called GoToGo Event Guide and was a familiar face behind the bar at the old Jannus Landing — heads up the concert programming end.

Knight recently brought in a new partner, Bill Edwards, a heavy hitter on the national music scene who owns St. Pete-based Big 3 Records, Bill Edwards Presents and 2602 Soundstage. His talent roster includes Cheap Trick, Stryper, Jon Secada and Carney Wilson. “When I talked to Jeff, I saw a little bit of me in him and him in me,” Edwards said. “And he’s got a vision that’s very sound and practical. I immediately wanted to work with him.”

Edwards says he’ll be involved in the booking and work with outside promoters such as Live Nation. He’s also the catalyst for outfitting the courtyard with SurroundSound, a remarkable technological facet that will make the new Jannus Landing unique.

Knight’s enterprise has energized nearby merchants. “This has been a dead fuckin’ block,” said Quinn Duffy, standing alone behind the counter of his empty Joey Brooklyn’s pizza shop. “If 50 percent of what Jeff Knight wants to do goes 50 percent right, it’s going to help us immensely.”

And if Knight’s plan stays hitch-free, Duffy and the rest of us won’t have long to wait. Knight has targeted the reopening of Pelican Pub and the liquor store for late November; the courtyard for mid- to late-December; and the sushi lounge for February.

“We’re going to have a concert at Jannus Landing on New Year’s Eve, if not sooner,” he says, then waves and heads back to work.

“This didn’t have to happen,” says Rob Douglas, his 6-foot-4 frame slouched on a sofa in his south St. Pete condo, his raspy voice weary and tinged with bitterness. He’s a linchpin of the St. Petersburg concert scene, his tenure as a promoter, venue operator and production manager dating back to the early ’80s, when shows were put on by enterprising locals rather than megacorporations. He spent 25 years working at Jannus Landing, one of the Bay area’s most beloved concert venues, until August when he severed ties with the downtown St. Pete institution. Douglas, 54, had reached the end of his tether with then-owner Jack Bodziak. “Even with the wreckage of the economy, we could have survived this,” Douglas says. “It was due to piss-poor stewardship.”

When he spoke those words in late October, Jannus Landing had been empty for most of the prior three months, its last show having been the execrable Insane Clown Posse on Oct. 9. Several scheduled concerts had relocated to other venues, most to the Ritz Ybor. Bodziak was beset by financial and legal problems, the most glaring of which was his arrest by state agents in May on charges that he failed to pay more than $200,000 in sales tax on revenues from Jannus Landing. He also owed a reported $160,000 in back rent and faced eviction. A new guy, Jeff Knight, waited in the wings, a well-heeled businessman with grandiose plans and no experience in the concert business.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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