Fuel dock café discussion held in open session

Avalon City Council deliberates lone proposal to bring a new eatery to waterfront.

AVALON ― Catalina Island residents and visitors might have been able to enjoy some food on the fuel dock pier during Avalon’s Fourth of July festivities, but the local City Council is still trying to figure out whether it could facilitate the return of a more permanent eatery on the busy waterfront.

Plans for a fuel dock café were back on the City Council’s agenda July 18, with Avalon’s elected officials reviewing options and searching for solutions. Discussions were held in open session; council members, at times, had previously discussed potential terms of a fuel dock café deal in closed session.

The city hired a food vendor to operate from the fuel dock pier on July 4. But will a long-term food vendor ultimately find its way back to the fuel dock?

Avalon appeared to be on track to have local residents Russell and Jenny Armstrong, who previously operated restaurants in the city, construct and operate a café from the fuel dock pier.

Talks between Avalon and the Armstrongs stalled several months ago, prompting the city to issue a Request for Proposals, or RFP, for a new vendor.

The RFP yielded a response from only one vendor: the Armstrongs.

Of course the Armstrongs aren’t new to the fuel dock; they had operated a café there before it was damaged by a storm.

City Manager David Jinkens suggested the council take one of three actions at their July 18 meeting: accept the Armstrongs’ proposal and prepare a new lease agreement; propose a counteroffer; or, issue another RFP.

The Armstrongs, interestingly enough, were not present at the July 18 meeting.

Council members contemplated several options with moving forward but did not want to continue with substantive discussions without the Armstrongs present. A meeting involving council members, city staff and the Armstrongs could be in the works.

Jinkens added the Armstrongs might have still had a restaurant at the fuel dock pier had there not been a bad storm and a “deteriorating dock.” The Armstrongs also happen to be one of the last small business owners in Avalon, Jinkens told council members.

One council member did not find the Armstrongs’ current proposal to be reasonable.

“What is being proposed in the Armstrong’s letter to us is a 30-year lease at $36,000 a year. That is not fair to all concerned,” City Council member Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy told her colleagues.

Patrick Alexander, former Casino Dock Café restaurant manager representing the Armstrongs, told council members he hopes the planned eatery becomes operational again soon so he can go back to work.

“I know everyone has run the numbers for years. I have been unemployed for years, as I’ve watched you guys discuss this and discuss this. I want to go back to work,” Alexander stated. “It’s been a frustrating process.

“The last year we were in operation, we ran live music six out of seven days a week. We created memories there, and I wonder what value you put on that,” Alexander continued.

Cassidy agreed the process has been frustrating.

“One of my biggest frustrations over the past two to 2.5 years, we start over every time. We never build upon where we were. We had made decisions a year ago and now we are back to negotiating for another year,” Cassidy said.

Council member Joe Sampson disagreed with the point of moving backward.

“It’s been three or four months really, since the project has been ready to be occupied or built onto. We’ve worked as fast as we could,” Sampson stated. “It’s not like we keep balking on things and pushing things back and pushing things aside.”

Mayor Ann Marshall pointed out negotiations have been going on for two years.

Cassidy suggested tabling any further discussions if they are still negotiating terms, especially when the Armstrongs were not present.

Cassidy proposed a couple of tiered options.

One option would be a 15-year lease with the following extensions: one to five years at a rent of $4,000 per month with a 2 percent consumer price index (CPI) and no rent reconciliation; six to 10 years with the $4,000 rent continuing with the CPI and a 5 percent reconciliation or the greater there of; and, 10 to 15 years with any subsequent extensions at $4,000 per month plus the CPI and up to the 8 percent reconciliation.

The other option would be one to two years at $3,000 per month with no reconciliation; three to five years at $4,000 per month at five percent reconciliation; and six to 15 years and any subsequent extensions at $4,000 per month plus the CPI and up to the 8 percent reconciliation.

“I think after 10 years the rent should go up. If they can’t make the business work in 10 years, and you know it’s going to be success the minute they open… I think that 10 years should be more than $4,000,” Marshall stated.

These tiered options would bring the Armstrong’s lease in line with all the other leases of the city and give the Armstrongs a 10-year period to recover the cost of the exterior building, according to Cassidy.

The City Council meeting concluded with Cassidy offering to sit down with the Armstrongs and presenting the two tiered options despite Marshall’s comment. City Attorney Scott Campbell, Director of Public Works Bob Greenlaw and Jinkens would be present at this meeting as well.

Council member Oley Olsen was absent from the City Council meeting.


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