The Village Council at its January meeting rejected a proposal for a restaurant in Pinecrest Gardens.
Councilmembers Joe Corradino, Jeff Cutler and Bob Ross voted against the measure, while Mayor Cindy Lerner and Councilmember James McDonald voted in favor of the matter. But, that’s not the end of it and we need to get some things straightened out. The Village owns and operates Pinecrest Gardens, a public park and historic botanical garden located at 11000 Red Road. Since acquiring the Gardens in 2002, the Village has renovated and preserved many of the existing historical structures, while introducing new programming to attract more users.
The Village improved the facility by adding a water playground for children, installing new playground equipment, renovating the original entrance building and Hibiscus Room, reconstructing the original Parrot Bowl into the Hammock Pavilion, adding new seating in the Banyan Bowl, and programming the uses of the Bowl for plays and concerts.
Throughout the year, the Gardens hosts numerous events, including an annual art festival, a jazz concert series, plays, musicals, educational workshops and programs for adults and children. As part of the park, the Village has available space at the main entrance building called Cypress Hall where a restaurant could be opened.
The Village issued an RFP or Request for Proposal to the public seeking a private entity to enter into a lease to “build out, maintain and operate” a restaurant at Cypress Hall. The RFP stated that the space was being offered “as is” as an “unfinished space and the tenant would be required to be rebuild.” In response, a proposal for a restaurant in the Cypress Hall was presented by Scott Silver on behalf of his partnership with Lalo Durazo of local restaurants Peacock Garden Cafe, Talavera and Jaguar.
After lengthy contract negotiations and many public meetings, the last proposed lease submitted to Council required the Village to spend $800,000 or more (an investment far more than the applicant was required to spend), allowed for a 160-seat restaurant and a bar, provided for evening hours, a favorable rent, required a one-year rent guarantee, gave the tenant exclusive catering rights at the Gardens, and could potentially last for 18 years. The proposed lease was also “end loaded” requiring the Village to reimburse the tenant the amortized cost of equipment, up to $120,000, if the lease was not mutually extended after 10 years, and even after 14 years.
Additionally, many Pinecrest residents were concerned that the tenant would come back to the Village for more concessions once the restaurant failed to perform and the Village, having invested so much into the project, would capitulate with even more concessions and favorable terms.
Originally and up to Election Day in November 2012, the Village Charter stated that there should be no lease of park or recreation property in excess of five years. This was to protect the public from — or at least limit to five years — the use of public land for private benefit and profit. A previous attempt to make arrangements with the owner of the Roasters and Toasters to open a restaurant in the Gardens failed because it became apparent that in order for a tenant to spend the money for the build out of Cypress Hall, a longer lease guarantee is necessary.
So, the Charter Revision Commission recommended that the Village Charter be amended to provide an exception for food service leases in Cypress Hall subject to a four-fifths Council vote, and the Village sold that revision to its residents by saying: “… if you want to see a restaurant in Pinecrest Gardens and do not want to see the Village have to spend $1 million of your tax dollars to build out the space for a restaurant, the charter must be amended to give us the flexibility to enter into a longer lease agreement for the space. To say yes to a restaurant, say yes to the charter change.” (Pinecrest E-News, September 2012)
The Charter Amendment passed, yet the defeated proposal still required the Village to spend close to $800,000, including nonrestaurant related improvements to the entrance of Pinecrest Gardens, and also gave a favorable lease to the tenant as mentioned above, including a lease term for up to 18 years. To be clear, most of the many residents who filled the Council chamber and spoke against this proposal said they wanted a restaurant, but felt that the size, scope and cost to the Village were too much.
Councilmember Cutler expressed regrets in having to vote against the measure since he was in favor of a restaurant and has confidence in and personally liked Silver and Durazo, whom he praised for their honesty and past business successes. Nevertheless, Cutler felt that he had to vote against this proposed deal as not being in the best interests of the Village.
“It is too big in size, too favorable to the tenant and has too much risk for the Village without the return,” he said.
The Village should not give up on having a restaurant at Pinecrest Gardens. There remain a few options to pursue at this point, including continuing negotiations with Silver, issuing a new and more accurate RFP to see if there is more interest under the circumstances, or simply build out the space solely and operate a restaurant under a management agreement.