MERIDEN — After initially coming in over budget by about $400,000, an architectural firm designing the proposed banquet facility at Hunter Golf Course recently presented revised designs that come in just at the city’s $1.5 million budget.
Farmington-based QA+M Architecture shaved the price tag by reducing the building’s interior footprint by about 500 feet — from 2,734 to 2,296 feet — and eliminating a number of aesthetic features, including a cupola on the roof, a canopy over the front door, a partition wall, and brick siding on the front of the building, City Manager Tim Coon said.
An updated floor plan shows that the firm reduced the horizontal length of the interior by around eight feet. Coon said the facility will still be able to seat at least 160 people but will lose space for a movable speaker platform.
Representatives from QA+M Architecture presented new renderings this week to the city’s Banquet Facilities Building Committee.
“We were pretty pleased with what they came back with at the 1.5 (million),” Coon, who chairs the banquet committee, said about the committee’s reception of the revised designs.
The city plans to present the new designs to the public at an informational meeting on Dec. 17, at which point residents can offer feedback. The committee in the coming weeks will then submit the new designs to the City Council, which will have ultimate say over whether the project moves forward. Coon said it’s likely the committee will submit both the new $1.5 million facility and the larger facility the architectural firm presented before the latest rounds of revisions, which would cost around $1.7 million, meaning the council will have to choose to approve the cheaper option, the more expensive option, or reject the project altogether.
City Councilor Bob Williams, a member of the banquet committee, said he prefers the firm’s original design that made the building about eight feet longer. Williams said he asked the firm how much more the additional eight feet of length would be and was told about $170,000.
“We’ve gone so far in this process, and we’re really trying to put a facility that will certainly meet all of our needs and I’d really like to add that (eight) feet back and see if the council would be open to $170,000 being added to the 1.5 million,” Williams said.
The city wants to build a new standalone banquet facility at the municipal golf course next to the existing Violi’s Restaurant because it currently hosts golf tournaments and other gatherings in a temporary tent structure, which Williams called “a disaster.” Williams also pointed out that, after the recent changes, the footprint of the banquet building in the facility – excluding the closets, bathrooms, and lobby area – is about the same size as the tent.
Williams added that if the council doesn't agree to increase the project’s budget, he would settle for the $1.5 million option because “something’s better than nothing.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati also bemoaned the recent round of revisions because he feels that removing the brick facade on the front entrance will make the building “look a little less attractive than what we anticipated or wanted.”
The brick facade was originally included to match the front of Violi’s, Scarpati noted.
“I still feel as though there are parts of the building that I’d like to see enhanced,” he said.
In order to pass the banquet facility project, the council will need eight votes for approval, more than a simple majority of seven, because the city has already exceeded its bonding cap this year. The City Charter requires eight votes of approval to bond any project that puts the city over its annual bond cap.
If the project doesn’t move forward, Scarpati said the city should consider purchasing a new, larger tent structure to replace the current tent next to Violi’s.
“Obviously, there's a cost to that but far less than $1.5 million,” Scarpati said.
Before the full council votes on the project, it will likely be referred to the council’s Finance Committee, which will scrutinize the project’s costs, along with the city’s return on investment, Scarpati said.
City officials have said they expect the project will eventually pay for itself many years down the road because the new facility will result in higher lease payments from Violi’s and more revenue from rentals. Coon said this week that the city is still calculating what the payback period for the project, assuming it costs $1.5 million, would be, adding that the payback period will depend on Violi’s future lease payments.
The City Council recently approved a new lease extension with Violi’s that doesn’t increase the restaurant's current lease but gives both parties the freedom to renegotiate the lease down the road if the banquet project ultimately moves forward.
In April, the City Council originally approved $875,000 for the banquet facility but had to go back to the drawing board when that figure ended up being significantly inadequate for what some officials wanted. In September, the council authorized the city to hire an architectural firm to design a building priced between $1.3 and $1.5 million.