Marina building to open without a restaurant
Gatineau is still looking for an entrepreneur to operate a restaurant in the Aylmer Marina’s new Pavillion. Deschênes councillor Mike Duggan told the Aylmer Bulletin that the building would likely be open without a restaurant by mid-July.
The city launched a call for tenders in late January with the process ending on May 6, for a 10-year lease (August 1, 2020 to July 31, 2030). On May 28, a Gatineau spokesperson confirmed with the Aylmer Bulletin that the city had received no offers.
A 219-square metre space with a minimum rental cost of $253 per square metre, the annual rent would be a minimum of $55,410 – approximately $4,600 per month – plus tax and other fees; which bring the amount up to nearly double. Last month, Aylmer councillors toured the facility.
The restaurant – which is on the ground floor – will occupy around one-third of the building, dedicating the rest to municipal spaces and recreational equipment rentals. Boasting a “sizeable balcony” on the second floor, Duggan said the space seems ideal for hosting large gatherings. Another patio is outside the restaurant.
However, the restaurant is not well suited for the sale and storage of draft beer – typically the main moneymaker for restaurants. “Whoever takes the contract, they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to prepare it for use,” Duggan said. He also believes the restaurant should feature strong curtains along the upstairs exterior patio to protect clients and employees from heavy winds. Nevertheless, the tendering conditions stated that screens couldn’t be installed on the building’s exterior. A four-foot tall plexiglass barrier covers the current balcony’s perimeter.
Unsurprised by such little interest, Duggan said the tendering criteria wasn’t favourable for investors, as it required the restaurant to be open year-round, rather than on a seasonal basis. The restaurant lease is to be for ten years, with the first two permitting seasonal operation, but after that, year-round is required. He stressed the need for a diversity of activities in the park for the restaurant to attract visitors during the winter, highlighting the proposed ice-skating trail in the project’s master plan.
But before the park is established as a winter destination, running a business there year-round isn’t viable, Duggan said. “The city will need to soften its requirements,” Duggan told the Bulletin.
Aylmer Councillor Audrey Bureau believes the lack of submissions was largely a product of the shut-down of restaurants imposed by COVID-19. “We didn’t know when restaurants would open, and under what conditions,” Bureau said. “That created a lot of uncertainty among restaurateurs to submit their candidacy.”
She thinks the city should wait until the pandemic dies out before launching another call for tenders.
With no restaurant set to open, Bureau hopes the city will install public furniture on the patios allowing for public access, especially to the bathroom facilities.
Co-owner of the former Marina resto-bar, Raghida Ayoub, expressed sentiments similar to Duggan’s, stating that the restaurant can’t operate under the proposed conditions. She told the Aylmer Bulletin that she and her business partners applied for a tender a couple of months ago.
After touring the premises for inspection, they withdrew their offer due to issues with the building’s design, capacity and the tendering conditions. Emphasizing the importance of draft beer sales for revenue, Ayoub said the space doesn’t include a refrigerated room to store kegs or an area to store tables and chairs when the patios are closed. She added that the interior dining room only has a capacity of 55 seats, with 142 seats on the two patios. Just to break even, Ayoub said the restaurant would need to generate at least $1 million in annual revenue, arguing that wouldn’t be possible the way it’s set up. The restaurant in the former building could seat over 550 people; the new space might fit half that number, yet the kitchen is large enough for a huge operation.
Having co-operated the Marina Resto-Bar for 14 years, Ayoub said the new space would require the addition of a large beer cooler, wind-resistant curtains, and office space. “It’s not properly designed,” Ayoub said. “It cannot be run as a business. It can only be run as a snack bar or something like that.” The city owns a snack bar space just meters away, at the beach hut and shower station, which hasn’t been rented to an operator since Place aux Jeunes stopped renting the space.
Questioning the city’s management of municipal funds, Ayoub believes the former building could have been renovated for less than a million dollars. She estimated that required renovations would cost at least $300,000, without counting the monthly rental costs, which she estimated would rise above $9,000 after taxes and fees. The Marina Resto-Bar paid some $82,000 per year in rent, which had been increased by over two-thirds in the span of a few years prior to the rebuild. The city has therefore lost $164,000 in rent to date, in addition to the $5 million in rebuilding costs. “Seven years ago we had an estimate done for the renovation of the building,” Ms Ayoub told the Bulletin. “The amount then was $275,000. Even if it was half a million in today’s market, it would have been done during the off season, so the city wouldn’t have missed a rent payment and we could have continued with our patio off the ground floor. We get calls all the time about when we’ll reopen with the Latin dancing on the patio,” Ayoub told the Bulletin.
Understanding the pandemic’s effect on municipal affairs, Duggan said the city needs to open the building this year even without a restaurant. “It’s public access; it’s worth $6.2 million,” he added. “We can’t keep it closed for the summer for lack of a restaurant. It’s our fault that the offer for tendering didn’t attract any bids.”
Duggan added that the city’s need to find an operator is urgent, emphasizing the importance of reducing the cost of rent among other conditions. “The city’s not going to have a tenant, unless we have a tenant this summer,” Duggan said. “They’re not going to start paying a lease in the fall when there is no money to be made.”
On June 12, the city confirmed with the Aylmer Bulletin that a second tendering period would begin next year, in the hopes of opening a restaurant in the summer of 2021. In 2018, the city launched the reconstruction of the Marina’s Pavillion, as part of the revitalization of Parc des Cèdres. A public meeting for the redevelopment of the entire Parc des Cèdres project was held October 11, 2018. This was when Aylmer learned the ballpark was to be replaced with a meandering walking path to “encourage active living,” as the design board indicated. As the Marina Pavillion plans were adjusted for size and utility, the public was not consulted in a formal manner. The new Pavillion was designed by Hull-based Lapalme Rhéault Architecte et Associés Inc.