Restaurant plans afloat to replace sunken Reuben E. Lee - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Restaurant plans afloat to replace sunken Reuben E. Lee

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - It's been two months since the San Diego landmark, floating restaurant – the Reuben E. Lee – sank to the bottom of San Diego Bay.

Why did the restaurant sink? And what happens next?

Ray Carpenter, 71, owns R.E. Staite Engineering, the company that was paid to tow away the Reuben E. Lee from the east side of Harbor Island back in April.

In an interview with News 8, Carpenter said the Reuben E. Lee's hull suffered a catastrophic failure while tied to his dock in an industrial yard south of the Coronado Bay Bridge.

"What happened was the hull just gave way," said Carpenter. "We had backup pumps in there just in case, but it was a collapse of the bottom plate."

For more than 40 years, the Reuben E. Lee enjoyed one of the best views of the downtown skyline. Thousands of San Diegans celebrated birthdays, weddings and proms on the restaurant.

It was declared structurally unsafe in 2003 and closed down.

In 2008, the property leaseholder, Sunroad Enterprises, announced plans for a $9 million dollar renovation of the restaurant on the Harbor Island site.

Sunroad's renovation proposal included more than just remodeling the Reuben E. Lee. It also included plans to build a brand new restaurant on the shoreline of Harbor Island.

Project renderings obtained by News 8 show a floating barge originally was part of the project, but when the Reuben E. Lee sank on December 9, so did the plans to renovate it.

Today, the Reuben E. Lee may be underwater but the option to build a new, land-based restaurant on Harbor Island is still afloat

In a telephone interview with News 8, Sunroad Vice President of Development, Tom Story, said the project is moving forward.

"The original, approved project contemplated the barge coming back in place," said Story. "Now that it has sunk and it's not an option to restore the barge, we are going to look at other options. We're putting together the final refinements to the landside development."

Story said Sunroad has transferred ownership of the Reuben E. Lee to R.E. Staite Engineering. The barge is expected to be demolished and sold for scrap in the spring.

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