(Reprinted from The South Florida Agenda)
WILTON MANORS â€” When he was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2010, Marty Kildea still considered himself a lucky man. His cancer was operable and curable, and he had the support of a gay community that had grown to know him through his involvement with Sidelines Sports Bar, a popular Wilton Drive club recognized for multiple flat-screen TVs airing football, soccer, tennis, and baseball as well as mixed martial arts, boxing and wrestling.
Sidelines opened May 12, 2006 in the former location of Circuit Bar, and was an immediate hit with a gay clientele that mixed easily with the occasional lesbian and heterosexual sports fan.
During its first years of operation, Kildea was featured along with lawyer Laurie Whittaker in publicity releases and published articles listing them as â€œco-owners,â€ celebrating the success of what was an obviously well-run and appreciated Drive destination.
With Whittaker handling the financial transactions of the business and Kildea managing the bar, Sidelines drew much-needed traffic to the south end of Wilton Drive, and benefited many other businesses along the route.
After Kildeaâ€™s cancer surgery, however, he says that his ability to continue his day-to-day obligations was impacted by his ill health, which took a second hit when further cancer surgery and treatment was required in July 2011. It was then that things began to unravelâ€”amid the bowls of peanuts and freshly made popcornâ€”inside the once happy Sidelines.
And allegations began to fly.
â€œOn a Tuesday in July, Laurie [Whittaker] came to me and offered to buy me out of the business for $50,000.â€ Kildea told the Florida Agenda. â€œWednesday, Laurie had to have surgery on her throat for polyps, so she couldnâ€™t talk. Her brother started to call me, demanding to know if I was going to take the offer. He said, â€˜You need to just accept this because youâ€™re not going to win on this.â€™â€
Kildea claims that he was blindsided by the offer, particularly given that the bar had grossed $7 million during its first five years in business.
â€œI told him that I wasnâ€™t accepting the offer. Thursday night, I received a text from Laurie saying, â€˜Do not come back to the bar. Iâ€™m changing the locks on the doors, and youâ€™re not welcome there anymore.â€™ Friday, I went and found a lawyer,â€ Kildea said.
On legal documents, Laurie Whittaker is listed as the sole owner of Sidelines Sports Bar LLC and holds the liquor license to the club. According to Kildea, despite the fact that they went into the business relationship together, and he is a co-signer with Whittaker on the lease, he was told that he couldnâ€™t â€œofficiallyâ€ be listed on any documents because of an arrest for cocaine possession prior to the opening of the bar. He was eventually convicted of the charge on August 8, 2007.
â€œAfter we had opened the bar, and were still getting things in order, [Laurie] brought me a piece of paper that she had printed out that said because of the Florida Division of Alcohol, Beverage and Tobacco rules, with my pending drug charge, I could not be listed on anything,â€ Kildea said.
â€œWe worked it out that I would get a bi-weekly check for my services, with a larger amount in cash.â€ Additionally, Kildea says that Whittaker split the cash take from the dart games and pool tables with Kildea on a 50-50 basis for the entire time he was connected with the establishment.
Kildea alleges that Sidelines Marketing Director Jennifer Morales was being paid in cash, as well.
â€œWe were paying Jennifer under the table because she was getting SSI (Supplemental Security Income)â€ for a diagnosed case of pulmonary hypertension, as well as ataxia, a progressive neurological disease. In his suit, Kildea alleges that Morales, whose real name is Jennifer Mojica, was paid $750 a week â€œfor her marketing efforts despite the fact that she is collecting disability and Medicare,â€ a claim that Whittaker denies.
Complicating the ownership issue, in printed releases from Moralesâ€™ own office during the first five years of the barâ€™s operation, Kildea is referred to as a â€œco-ownerâ€ along with Laurie Whittaker, Moralesâ€™ longtime girlfriend.
Articles in both the Agenda and South Florida Gay News referred to him as co-owner as late as April 2011. Three months later, Kildea was out.
In his court case, originally filed July 27, 2011, Kildea alleges that Whittaker knowingly misled him about the liquor license and their partnership. Additionally, he claims that Whittaker, by â€œtaking $10,000 per month more than agreed to, misappropriated assets of Sidelines for her own personal gain,â€ and that she took â€œtravel advances, expensing lavish parties and dinners,â€ and â€œpersonal vacations, which were paid with credit cardsâ€ issued in Sidelinesâ€™ name. Whittaker denies that allegation as well.
While â€œrespectfullyâ€ refusing to comment for this story, in her sworn answers to Kildeaâ€™s lawsuit Whittaker takes the position that his allegations â€œare based upon and completely emanate from an alleged oral contract that is illegal and against public policy in the State of Florida.â€ She further denies his right to examine the corporationâ€™s bookkeeping records.
To further complicate the Sidelinesâ€™ saga, Whittaker announced last August that she was moving the bar from its current location at 2031 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors to a new location in Fort Lauderdale at 2104 E Oakland Park Blvd, the former location of the Jib Room.
In making the announcement, Whittaker noted that the new location will have nearly double the square footage of the current 3,600 square foot club, plus have kitchen facilities the present location lacks.
A story in the December 17, 2012 edition of the Agenda reported that, â€œSidelines Sports Bar broke ground last week in their new location,â€ with the anticipated opening â€œin the early part of Winter 2013.â€ A visit to the site that once housed the Jib Room shows no sign of activity, and a thick blanket of dust covers unused kitchen equipment and duct work. Furthermore, the City of Fort Lauderdale has only a single open building permit for the siteâ€”one that has been active since 1998 for the construction of a dumpster enclosure.
Whittaker and Kildeaâ€™s landlord Tony Dee described an encounter with Whittaker while she was eating at the popular Tropics Restaurant and Piano Bar, which he owns.
According to Dee, he asked Whittaker about her plans to move out of his building, which houses the current Sidelines location and was told that she â€œhadnâ€™t made up her mind what she was doing.â€ In that conversation, which Dee says took place within the past two weeks, Whittaker claimed that she might have two locations or might move.
â€œI hadnâ€™t heard a word from her before that,â€ Dee said. â€œAnd I wanted to know about all the rumors I had heard, just like everybody else.â€
Dee, who owns more than 40,000 square feet of space in Wilton Manors, added: â€œLaurie Whittaker is an excellent paying tenant.â€
He said that heâ€™s had multiple enquiries about the space and has tentatively agreed to lease it to â€œthe guys from Billâ€™s,â€ if and when the property becomes available. The current lease runs through April 2014.Â Kildea has also expressed interest in the property.
Regardless of the outcome of the suit or the eventual move of Sidelines, Dee told the Florida Agenda that there would soon be a sign advertising â€œ3,600 square feet for rentâ€ posted above the currently empty space next door to the bar.
As for Whittaker and Kildea, they are due back in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court this month.