Applicant optimistic about Southport RR cafe plans
"I'm hoping soon. Hopefully, we'll open soon," Fried said.
The Parking Authority didn't approve a lease with Fried on Thursday night, but issues that remained with a draft of the lease didn't seem significant, according to Mary Kay Frost, the authority's chairwoman.
"I don't think any of the things that were brought up were very difficult," Frost said toward the end of the discussion.
Fried's proposal to open "Cafe Society" has drawn opposition from Southport residents who live nearby and who are concerned about the cafe's hours of operation, the sale of alcohol and the potential that the cafe will turn into a "biker bar." However, no one from the neighborhood attended Thursday night's meeting to object to Fried's plan.
During the meeting, Fried said he had reached out to neighbors, but thinks they don't want anything to open in the depot building. "It's like they wanted nothing. I spent a lot of money [on attorneys] to talk to them, but at the end of the day, they wanted nothing. They didn't want anything in the space," he said.
Fried, who lives in Fairfield, said he had collected about 300 signatures on petitions and emails from rail commuters who support his plan to open a cafe on the New York-bound side of the Southport Railroad Station, which he indicated dwarfs the number of people who oppose it.
Fried said his cafe would occupy about 640 square feet of the building, which was rebuilt several years ago after a fire destroyed the former building. He said his cafe would occupy far less space than Paci Restaurant, which leases space in a building on the New Haven-bound side of the Southport Railroad Station. "It's small, it's all small," he said of his proposed cafe.
The biggest hurdles to Fried obtaining a lease with the Parking Authority seemed to center on his proposed cafe's hours of operation and whether the lease would extend past 2018, which is the year when the state's lease of the building to the Parking Authority expires.
Frost said the state wants the Parking Authority to obtain "fair market" rent and she didn't know how that could be determined more than six years in advance. "I'm afraid the state may not look kindly on it," she said of a long-term lease, adding that the state also would have to approve the lease.
The Parking Authority previously entered into a long-term lease with the Nauti Dolphin, a pizzeria at the Fairfield Railroad Station, but times had changed, Frost said. "When we did the Nauti Dolphin, the state wasn't on this tear of doing things at fair market rent," she said.
Town Planning Director Joseph Devonshuk Jr. advised against including a provision beyond 2018 in a lease with Fried, saying the Parking Authority "may incur some liability if the state changes its mind" regarding its lease. "It would be a liability I don't think you should take," he said.
Fried suggested that the lease could obtain an "if" clause -- that the lease would be renewed if the state renewed its lease with the Parking Authority -- but Devonshuk wasn't persuaded. "If you base your investment on that if, and it's in that document, the authority may have some liability ... I'm being conservative in my opinion," Devonshuk said.
Fried said he just wanted to know where he stood with future rent payments for planning purposes, but Frost again brought up that the authority couldn't determine fair market rent so far in advance.
Eileen Kennelly, an assistant town attorney, said she understood Fried's position and could check with state officials to gauge their reaction to a lease that included renewal options after 2018.
Regarding hours of operation, Devonshuk noted that the Parking Authority didn't include hours of operation in its lease with Paci Restaurant and that hours would be regulated by the type of liquor permit that Fried obtained.
"But the time limit is to 2 o'clock in the morning," Kennelly said of the state's regulation of hours. "That gives you your outside limit as to when you can be open." Fried said he planned to request either a cafe or restaurant liquor permit.
Kennelly suggested that town officials have "a little more discussion" with James Walsh, Fried's lawyer and member of the Board of Selectmen, regarding hours of operation, but Frost was inclined to leave hours of operation out of the lease, particularly after a Parking Authority member expressed concern with setting a precedent by stating them.
The other issues with the lease involved what would happen if Fried's business didn't succeed; trash removal (Fried said he thought he needed a trash bin); how payments for water usage would be determined (Frost suggested Fried pay for quantities above the three-year average that existed before his cafe opens), and restroom access.
Fried said he hoped the Parking Authority would vote on the proposed Cafe Society lease next month, since it needs the body's approval before it can be sent to the state.
After the meeting, Fried said he was satisfied with the amount of rent in the draft lease and that his cafe would sell coffee, croissants and baked goods in the morning and then transition to bistro-style food in the afternoon. "It's a traditional Parisian cafe, which is basically like a coffee shop that transforms itself," he said.