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June 29, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Murphy’s Terra Plata on Capitol Hill: it’s a win, but when?

Perhaps, while I was away on vacation, you heard the news. In the ongoing discussion of the legal wrangling between chef Tamara Murphy and the developers of the Melrose Project — regarding the space for her Pike/Pine restaurant Terra Plata leased and later “lost” — Murphy prevailed.

She got the good word June 15, the day after her birthday, a month after the abrupt closure of her flagship restaurant, Brasa, and only days before the debut of her second Elliott Bay Cafe at the new Elliott Bay Book Company.

After fighting for her tenant rights under a signed lease agreement for Terra Plata and winning the arbitrator’s nod “on all counts,” Murphy said she’s “obviously pretty happy about the outcome”: Terra Plata will open at the Melrose Market, albeit much later than originally planned.

When one door closes (like the one above, at Brasa, in Belltown) another opens. Will we see this beautiful iron gate on Melrose Avenue? The jury’s still out on that one. [Seattle Times photo: Mike Siegel]

Asked to explain Judge Steve Scott’s verdict in her favor, Murphy said via e-mail, paraphrasing the legalese, “Melrose’s notice of default to Terra Plata and attempted termination of our lease was improper and invalid, therefore, our lease shall remain valid and in effect, and our commence-date shall continue to be delayed until Melrose makes corrections to the installation of their building’s electrical equipment and delivers our space as was agreed to in our lease.”

It’s that electrical equipment (a bank of meters built, insists Murphy, without her knowledge, in what was meant to be Terra Plata’s private dining room) that brought the parties to arbitration in the first place.

The trouble spot, deemed a “material defect” by the arbitrator.

When I asked how developers Liz Dunn and Scott Shapiro can possibly arrange to relocate those meters (equipment that feeds their building’s existing tenants, including Matt Dillon’s new Sitka & Spruce) Murphy acknowledges “It’s not likely that they’ll move them, but we’ll have to have a conversation about that.”

Her contractors are ready to go, she said, and once they get started, she’s looking at a four-month time-line before she can introduce Seattle to the much-anticipated restaurant she expected to open last spring. So far, said Murphy, she’s yet to talk directly to developers regarding the commencement of Terra Plata’s build-out. “The ball is in their court and we’re hoping to come to some sort of agreement in how to move forward.”

Asked to comment on the conflict’s recent resolution, developer Liz Dunn said via e-mail that “the arbitration decision did not resolve all the issues at hand.” Speaking for herself and her Melrose business-partner Shapiro, she said “We want to find a win-win solution that feels comfortable to everyone, and we are in contact with the Terra Plata team in an effort to get all issues resolved as quickly as possible.”

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