By Allen Payton
Perhaps it was the lucky numbers of the day’s date, 11-12-13, that played in his favor. But, after working with the city and being “bullied through this process by out of town interests” Antioch businessman Tony Keslinke received unanimous City Council approval to reopen Kelly’s restaurant and card room, Tuesday night.
“After a year-long process, we have a staff recommendation for approval,” Keslinke said in his presentation to the council. “Following Planning Commission approval and a 5-0 vote of the California Gambling Control Commission, I am asking for a decision that is conditioned upon state license approval.”
Following public comments of a veritable Who’s Who of Antioch supporting the effort, including two Antioch School Board members, one of whom represented the Rivertown Preservation Society, a former Antioch councilwoman, business leaders, the former Chair of the Antioch Police Crime Prevention Commission, an Economic Development Commissioner, as well as a variety of friends and business owner tenants of Keslinke’s ABC Building on A Street and refurbished Friendship Manor on Cavalo Road, that’s exactly what the council gave him.
“City Hall needs to get rid of the red tape and start rolling out the red carpet for business,” stated Brian Bellante, owner of an auto repair business and Chairman of the Board of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.
That was followed by a rousing speech by Chamber CEO and local chiropractor Dr. Sean Wright, a former tenant of the ABC Building, which elicited the largest round of applause.
“He’s [Keslinke's] done more for economic development in the last 10 years in Antioch than anyone else,” Wright said. “It’s a decision over future economic development for the next five years and the investors he’ll bring to our city.”
The “landmark Kelly’s restaurant” as Keslinke referred to it, which included a six-table card room, located on O Street, near the corner of 4th Street, has been closed for a few years. The building has fallen into disrepair and has attracted homeless people and squatters to the property.
One neighbor, Ruth Riley-Evans, who owns Scotto’s Auto Body across the street, said she supported “the 24/7 operation with professional security,” which will benefit the neighborhood.
The council’s unanimous decision to approve the issue included a list of conditions, including recommendations from Chief of Police Allan Cantando, a few of which were met with opposition by both Keslinke and one speaker.
“Metal detectors and full-body scanners is taking things too far,” stated Antioch resident Phil Robinson, who said he wants a place to play cards in town.
But, no one spoke against the matter and many in attendance held signs stating “I Love (heart sign) Kelly’s” and “I Love (heart sign) Jobs.” It is projected that 48 new jobs will be created at the restaurant, bar and card room.
Following the public comments, Mayor Harper said he had worked for 17 years in Emeryville, which had a card room, and wanted to “move forward on the matter tonight.” The council then approved the motion by Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha, seconded by Councilman Tony Tiscareno to give a conditional license pending approval by the state within 36 months, but not until after they received input from City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland and Councilman Gary Agopian about their concerns with voting on the motion without the additional conditions recommended by city staff, and amended the motion.
The Council then took a break allowing the staff and Keslinke to meet in a conference room at City Hall to hammer out the details of the conditions.
That list of conditions was later brought back to the council for their final decision on the matter, which also passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Earlier this year, on the day of the Planning Commission vote, a full-color, glossy campaign-style mailer appeared in Antioch residents’ mailboxes opposing the reopening of Kelly’s. It was put out by a group that labeled itself ProtectAntioch.org. However, it was later discovered that those behind the fake organization was the California Card Club Association, and funded by the Oaks Card Room in Emeryville, California Grand Casino in Pacheco and the San Pablo Lytton Indian Casino, among others, trying to prevent additional competition. During his presentation, Keslinke referred to their representatives, saying “some of them are in this room, tonight.”
Nerland also mentioned a possible lawsuit and a possible referendum of the council vote, which could be led by the opponents.
Antioch allows for six licenses for six-table card rooms. Currently, only one, The 19th Hole, is in operation.