At last Monday’s Recreation Committee meeting, the Common Council reviewed a proposal from Dan’s Backyard Barbecue, owned by local resident Dan Nelli, to operate Riverlink Park’s restaurant facility. The proposal is the only one that has been received by the city since the request for proposals was sent out later last year. In the proposal, Nelli lists an option in which he would be responsible for maintaining the grounds of the park, which according to Recreation Director Rob Spagnola, would save the city approximately $5,000 per year. Nelli also proposes keeping the facility open into late fall in order to accommodate additional events, which would extend past the previous vendor’s usual season which corresponded to the opening and closing of the canal system.
“I think he is planning to utilize the facility in a broader fashion than the prior restaurateur,” said Mayor Ann Thane. “Because the [previous] restaurateur was basically focused on the cafe and the high-end restaurant. I think this proposal entails…use of the tent more as far as community events….If he can have a Halloween celebration in October [for example], which is long after the canals close, then why not?” said Mayor Ann Thane. “I think he’s really ambitious and really wants to maximize usage of the park.”
Council members discussed what the final contract length should be. Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said she favored a two-year deal. “Let’s see how it goes for both him and for us before we go for a five-year lease agreement,” said Hatzenbuhler.
Alderman Ron Barone said, “ there aren’t a thousand people knocking on our doors to get into that park…you got a young kid who’s wants to take a shot…I can vouch for him, I remember when he worked for Russo’s [Bar and Grill]. He cooked, he had different ideas, he’s an entrepreneur…I think you have to give him a chance…I think we should move forward with it whether we go with a three or five-year [agreement]. Every time we tie somebody’s hands to a one year agreement or two-year agreement, they just say ‘well what the hell do I have to do [so] they don’t want to get rid of me in two years.’”
Alderman Richard Leggerio proposed a three contract with a two-year extension. When Alderman Ed Russo queried the rest of the council as to their agreement on those terms, no one objected. The council agreed to wait until the January 20th meeting to discuss the issue further with Nelli in a committee meeting before voting on it, and to give Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis time to review the proposal.