The town's Beach & Recreation Commission, during a meeting Thursday morning at town campus, voted in favor of renting Madison Beach Hotel the grassy strip in front of the hotel on a seasonal basis for a seasonal rate of $11,000. They also voted in favor of allowing Madison Beach Hotel to use a grass parking area at the Surf Club for valet parking, at a rate of $375 per event, after 5 p.m.
The vote to allow the hotel to use the town-owned grassy strip adjacent to the hotel was unanimous, with members Katherine Lawton, Paul Maxwell, Jeff Rosenberg, Scott Zimmerman, and Chairman Tom Banisch voting in favor. The vote to allow the hotel to use the Surf Club for parking was 4 to 1, with Lawton voting against it.
As the meeting, Madison Police Commissioner Thomas Cartledge participated in the discussion and brought up several concerns. He said the only concern of the Madison Board of Police Commissioners, which acts as the town's traffic commission, relates to safety and traffic.
The police department interested in the outcome
"The police department is interested in the outcome," Cartledge said during the meeting. "We have no interest in getting involved with the location or the fee. Our concern is finding out what arrangements have been made. We want to know location and the time of the beginning of the event, and the end of the event."
Cartledge said he was told by Lou Carrier, head of Distinctive Hospitality Group, which is managing the hotel, that the hotel had an open contract with the Beach & Recreation Commission for all Saturdays and Sundays during summer afternoon and evenings. Cartledge said Carrier said there already are 22 events booked and paid for at the hotel between the beginning of May and Sept. 15, 2012. The average attendance is 94 people, ranging from 10 at some events and 150 at others, Cartledge said.
Cartledge also noted that the hotel, which has 84 parking spaces available, also has 33 rooms, a restaurant that seats 150, open seating at the bar, and sightseers at any given time. In addition, the hotel staff likely will need parking somewhere, he said.
Expecting a problem when it comes to parking
"We haven't even discussed where employees are going to park," Cartledge said. "They're couching that, saying 'they'll be there.' Of course they'll be there. But they're not going to be walking in from where they live. They'll need parking somewhere."
"Everybody on our end expects it to be a big problem," he said of the parking issue.
Cartledge recommended the commission take steps to avoid potential problems at the Surf Club entrance, with the valet parking crew coming and going. He said, if necessary, the police department will assign police officers nearby the hotel and Surf Club to make sure speed limits and other safety rules are being followed. He said the police department would not make exceptions for the hotel or hotel guests, that they would be held to the same standards as town residents. What happens if guests park illegally, he was asked.
"They'll get a ticket," Cartledge said. "The chief intends to enforce all parking laws of the town."
List of events already booked and paid for runs from May 5 to Sept. 15
"Our understanding is that they will be using a professional valet service," Cartledge said. "These drivers will be making minimum wage. And everybody has been at an event where somebody slips a $10 bill to the valet and says 'my car first' and maybe we'll get someone going a little faster than they should."
Cartledge provided the commission with a list of events already booked at the hotel, provided to him by the hotel . The schedule starts May 5th with a wedding from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. that includes 75 to 100 guests and ends on Sept 15 with an event for 150 guests from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Included on the schedule are many weddings, bridal showers, breakfast events, rehearsals, and brunches. One event, on June 17th, starts at 9 a.m. and includes 80 guests.
The schedule provided by Cartledge to the commission was from the hotel and did not reflect block out dates that might be mandated by the town. Commission members also said that the hotel's understanding of the arrangement was different than their understanding of what has been under discussion.
A fundamental difference
Banisch noted that the deal is being offered on a trial basis only and that the commission agreed to evenings only. He also said that the commission, if there is a problem, could cancel at any time.
Maxwell said it may be that the hotel management did not have a complete understanding of what was under discussion.
"There is a fundamental difference between what we think is going on and what they think is going on," Maxwell said. "They think it's carte blanche and here's a list and get out of our way."
Not a negotiation
Both Cartledge and commission members noted that Carrier has a strong personality and is often forceful about asking for what he wants.
"Pushy or not pushy, this isn't a negotiation," Zimmerman said. "If they like it, great. If they don't like it they'll find somewhere else."
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson, who attended the beginning of the 7:30 a.m. meeting before having to leave for another early morning meeting, agreed. He said the town is doing its best to try to work something out for the hotel, in a way that also works for the town and its other residents. He said he hopes the commission finds a way to work out a deal suitable to both parties, a sentiment that was echoed by members of the commission, some of whom said they felt like they were trying to make the best of a difficult situation, since the hotel clearly does not have enough parking for its size.
"This is not a negotiation," McPherson said. "This is an accommodation to a town business. We want it to succeed. But it's not their Surf Club and it's not their West Wharf Beach. This commission is trying to help them out and that's where it stands."
Banisch said, "we can't be everything they want." He was adamant that the hotel abide by any agreement made. "If they can't live by the rules, we just don't do it anymore," he said.
Maxwell expressed concern about whether any deal would work out to the satisfaction of all parties.
"This has hair on it"
"This has hair on it," he said of the town's proposal and the difficulties surrounding it. "My concern is that some guy comes out of a wedding at 12:05 [in the morning] and stumbles down to the Surf Club to get his car out. Then what? That's our problem?"
Zimmerman noted that any problem like that would be the responsibility of the valet company and that they would have to clear all of the cars before midnight.
"But let's say that doesn't happen," Maxwell said.
Would it pass the Stop & Shop test?
Lawton, who voted against the parking proposal, said she had too many concerns to vote in favor of it. She and other commission members wondered, would it would pass the Stop & Shop test? In other words, would she and the commission members be able to make a case to the town residents that the commission acted in the best interests of the entire town? These conversations often take place informally at the Stop & Shop while people are shopping.
Several commission members said they would be able to make a case to their neighbors that the proposed deal is in the best interests of all involved. "We all want the hotel to succeed," Zimmerman said. "We want the deal to be fair and equitable ... they're worried about making a buck. We're worried about bumping into our neighbors at Stop & Shop, and them saying, 'what the heck did you do?'"
"How do you make the best of a bad situation?"
"Well, for the people who object to this, for the people we run into at Stop & Shop, we tell them the hotel was built without enough parking places. So, how do you make the best of a bad situation? If I run into people at Stop & Shop and they complain, I'll tell them we've done the best we can do under difficult circumstances," Zimmerman said.
Banisch added that if the arrangement does not work out, it will be adjusted.
An objection to the number of events planned
Lawton agreed that she and other commission members want the hotel to succeed. She said she often walks by the hotel to see what kind of progress it is making, a practice shared by many others in this town.
"I go down there and it's exciting and it's beautiful, but did they really need that big go-round in the parking lot?" Lawton said. The parking lot adjacent to the main entrance of the hotel facing Parker Avenue has a rounded decorative landscaped element in it that takes up some space.
She also noted that some of the town's cheer-leading squads sometimes use the grassy area at the Surf Club, now being offered for parking, for practice and wondered if the arrangement would disrupt that. But she said her main objection was the sheer number of events planned.
Dates listed subject to commission's approval
"That list scares me," she said.
Banisch noted that any dates listed were subject to the commission's approval.
Lawton also asked Beach & Recreation Director Scot Erskine whether providing the hotel with the use of the grassy area at the Surf Club precludes it from additional uses, such as boat storage. Erskine said while there is a waiting list for boat storage, that the Surf Club beach will not accommodate any more boats and that it is at its limit.
Other options under consideration
Commission members also noted the hotel has said it is considering other options, including the Stop & Shop parking lot, and the Madison Country Club parking lot.
Commission members asked McPherson at the beginning of the meeting whether there were other options in town, such as the Island Avenue School parking lot, the commuter lot, or the old Amtrak/Metro North parking lot. McPherson said the latter two belong to the state and that any request to use the Island Avenue School lot would have to be made to the town's Board of Education.
McPherson also said the selectmen thought the price being offered to the hotel on the grassy strip rental, next to the hotel, at $11,000 was too low.
Hotel offers $2,000 for rental of grassy strip next to hotel
Commissioners said during the meeting that the hotel thought the price being asked was too high, and that the hotel offered $2,000. Banisch also said that the McPherson had informed him that the selectmen wanted to weigh in on the rental of the grassy strip next to the hotel.
Some commission members agreed the deal could be perceived as a land lease, which would be subject to approval by the Board of Selectmen.
But they said they wanted to maintain control of the deal and that offering it as a rental would make it similar to rental of other Beach & Recreation facilities.
Specifics of deal being offered
The motion to offer the grassy strip in front of the hotel said that the Beach & Recreation Department will rent The Madison Beach Hotel the grass area in front of he hotel on a seasonal basis (6 months from 4/15 to 10/15) for a seasonal rate of $11,000 and would allow the hotel to use the grass area at any time during that period. The town will ask the hotel to provide adequate insurance to cover the possibility of lawsuits if an accident occurs on the property or other liability is incurred.
When it comes to parking at the Surf Club, the Beach & Recreation Commission will allow the use of the grass parking area for valet parking at the rate of $375 per event. The parking will be available only after 5 p.m. and the commission is specifying that all vehicles must be removed from the park by 12 a.m., so that town staff can secure the park for the night.
Any cars that are left after 12 a.m. would have to be picked up the following day.
Hotel asked to respond before May 4th, next meeting of commission
The commission also specified that it will supply a list of block out dates due to large events taking place at the Surf Club or Strong Field. The dates will depend in part on schedules as set by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and local sports groups.
Chairman Tom Banisch said following the meeting that the town will ask that Madison Beach Hotel make a decision as to whether it would like to accept these terms prior to the next meeting of the commission on May 4th. Banisch said he hopes to hear back from the hotel well before May 4th.
Banisch also said that the deals would require a contract, and that the contract would specify that these arrangements are being made on a trial basis only until the end of the calendar year at which point they will be re-evaluated by the town.
Banisch also said the town needs to look into whether the town is covered from liability relating to work ongoing at the hotel property now.
Mike Ott, the town's public works director and engineer, said there are plans to re-sod the lawn adjacent to the hotel by April 20.