Riverlink cafe contract in arbitration

A dispute has arisen between the City of Amsterdam and Dan Nelli, operator of the restaurant facility at Riverlink Park. Mayor Michael Villa said Tuesday that the dispute is in the process of being brought before an independent arbitrator, rather than a courtroom, which is required under the terms of a five-year contract to operate the facility which was awarded to Nelli in 2015.

At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, one couple who said they had booked their wedding reception at the facility for this July, asked during the public comments time whether they would still be able to hold their event.

The couple said they had decided to hold their reception at Riverlink after hearing good reviews from others and after checking out the park personally.

“No events will be cancelled at Riverlink park,” said Villa in response to the couple.

When reached for comment, Nelli said that he has been upfront with his customers in regards to the dispute, in which he said the city is calling for the termination of his contract. As a result, he said several events have already been cancelled by planners due to the uncertainty over the result of the arbitration.

Nelli said that the arbitration is scheduled for late April, which he said was “terrible timing.”

“I don’t know why they waited until now to do this,” said Nelli. “The whole season’s going to be lost. The whole thing is outlandish in my mind.”

Neither city officials or Nelli were willing to speak on-record about the details of the dispute, however Nelli said that he believes the city’s accusations are baseless.

“I believe what they are saying is completely, 110% unjust. The two years I’ve been down there, I’ve bent over backwards, and worked harder than anyone has at that cafe, to bring new events in, to make sure service is good, increase tent parties, increase traffic flow.”

Nelli added, “I’ve asked several times for meetings with the city, to sit down and discuss what’s going on to come up with some type of conclusion, whatever it has to be…they’ve refused every single time to meet with me. I’m not really sure why.”

Nelli said that he is willing to refund deposits to any customer who wishes to cancel due to the dispute.

After the first season of operating the facility, Nelli spoke before the Common Council in December 2015 to ask about upgrades to the facility’s kitchen equipment in order to accommodate more people. No action was ever taken in regards to the requests. At the same meeting, Diane Hatzenbuhler, alderwoman at the time, said she had observed that the park was not being maintained well.

Nelli’s contract specifies that his staff is responsible for maintaining the grounds of the park in lieu of paying a regular rental fee.

At the same meeting, Alderman Ed Russo disagreed with Hatzenbuhler’s assessment of the maintenance situation, and there was debate as to whether some of the issues brought up by Hatzenbuhler, such as deteriorated benches and picnic tables, fell under Nelli’s responsibilities or not.

During the same meeting, Recreation Director Rob Spagnola said he did have some issues with Nelli’s operation during the 2015 season, but that those issues had been worked out.

“Dan should be commended,” said Spagnola at the meeting. “He took a big risk, he put a lot of his own money in, the very first year, and I think going forward we’re moving in the right direction.”

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.