MERIDEN — The City Council’s Finance Committee narrowly approved bonding an additional $124,999 for a banquet facility at the city-owned Hunter Golf Course this week.
The five-member committee voted 3-2 to raise the project’s total bond authorization from the $875,000 the council approved earlier this year to just under $1 million. Democrats Brian Daniels, Cathy Battista, and We the People Councilor Walter Shamock voted in favor. Democrat Miguel Castro and Republican Dan Brunet voted in opposition. The request for additional money now requires approval from the full City Council.
The city decided to increase the project’s budget after seeing the facility it would get under its original budget, which some described as a “metal shed” that wouldn’t complement the existing Violi’s Restaurant at the golf course or reflect well on the city.
The only construction company that responded to a request-for-proposals put out by the city last month was Meriden-based LaRosa Building Group. LaRosa initially submitted a bid for a $1.7 million banquet facility that could have seated up to 200 people. The initial proposal would have been connected to Violi’s and would have been constructed with a wood frame and siding to aesthetically match the existing restaurant.
Because its initial bid, submitted July 10, well exceeded the city’s budget, the company worked with the city’s banquet facilities building committee to reduce the cost, and on July 24, the company presented an $897,000 “bare-bones” prefabricated metal building that wouldn’t connect to or aesthetically match Violi’s.
After the city told LaRosa the $897,000 proposal didn’t meet its vision for the project, the company came back with a final proposal — a $968,000 metal building that can seat up to 160 people. The building, if
approved, would not be connected to Violi’s and does not include a kitchen.
The final option allows for more room for a future patio space that would overlook the 18th green of the golf course, said project architect John Ireland from the engineering firm BL Cos., which is working with LaRosa to design the project. Representatives from LaRosa and BL presented details of the various proposals at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting.
The banquet facility will replace a temporary, 2,400-square-foot tent structure the city has used to hold events next to Violi’s since 2005.
We the People Councilor Bob Williams called the tent an “absolute joke,” adding he personally runs golf tournaments that use other facilities because the tent is deemed inadequate.
“The tent is a horrible facility. It is not an attraction,” Daniels said.Attractive enough?
Based on the city’s projections, a $1 million facility will generate enough annual revenue for the city so that it will “pay for itself” in about 24 and a half years, more than the projected 19-year “break-even” point previously projected when the council approved $875,000. The additional revenue will come from an increase in the number of golf tournaments the course can attract with the facility and an increase in rent payment from Violi’s. The restaurant’s lease is set to expire in October, and the city plans to negotiate higher rent payments if the banquet hall moves forward.
While Shamock said the banquet facility would be an upgrade, Castro said the $968,000 option is “just not attractive enough.”
“It’s not what that golf course should have for a 24-and-a-half year” pay-off period, Castro said. “By the time we get there, it’s going to look not that attractive.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said the building isn’t what he envisioned when the $875,000 was approved back in April, adding he fears the city is “throwing money at a project that ultimately we won’t be satisfied with.”
“Before I saw (LaRosa’s presentation Tuesday), I thought, ‘OK, it’s an extra $125,000 to get something comparable to what we talked about months ago. It’s an extra $125,000 to get something completely different,” Scarpati said. “A metal pre-fab building looks good for Family Dollar on East Main Street. I don’t think it’s going to look good at our golf course.”
Scarpati wondered whether the company could come back to the city with a proposal priced around $1.2 million — a middle ground between the proposals priced at $1.7 million and $968,000. Daniels, the Finance Committee’s chairman and a member of the banquet building review committee, explained that putting the project cost over $1 million would automatically trigger roughly an additional 20 percent in expenses due to the state’s “prevailing wage” requirements, which essentially require increased wage schedules for projects over $1 million.
“We’re not going to be able to come back with something at $1.2 (million). Because if we add $40,000 to this project, which basically (doesn’t change it at all) … it puts you at $1.2 million,” Daniels said.Maintenance, lease
Brunet argued city projections that the building will “pay for itself” in 24 years don’t take into account the cost of maintaining the building and any necessary repairs. Battista said she’s comfortable with any pending repair costs because “you can never get away from that.”
Brunet also said he doesn’t feel comfortable approving money for the facility without a new lease agreement with Violi’s in place. City Manager Tim Coon said the city is waiting for the project to get final approval before proceeding with lease talks.
“It’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing,” Daniels said.
Brunet questioned why LaRosa was the only company to submit a bid for the project. Daniels said he’s also posed that question and has been told there’s a high volume of work currently available to construction companies and that this particular project isn’t as attractive due to its small size.