December 11, 2018
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City extends lease for cafe despite squabbles over rent, open hours

Tammy Wells | Journal Tribune
Tammy Wells | Journal Tribune
The Sanford City Council on Tuesday approved a one-year lease extension to Cockpit Cafe owner Renee Bernier, whose restaurant is located inside a city-owned building at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. The vote also stipulates that new negotiations will require mediator.

SANFORD, Maine — The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to a one-year renewal of the current lease for the Cockpit Cafe at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport and to resume negotiations with owner Rene Bernier in March with the aid of a mediator or negotiator.

Bernier’s current 10-year lease on the wing of the city-owned building at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport was set to expire Dec. 31. There were disagreements between the city and Bernier over specifics in both the request for proposals for a tenant put forward by the city and the lease proposal — over rent calculation, hours of operation, length of lease, which entity would pay which utilities, and the disposition of $50,000 in the city’s capital improvement fund earmarked for renovations to the restaurant building, among other differences. City leaders say efforts to engage Bernier in a negotiation were unsuccessful.

“We need you to work with us to get a lease done,” Mayor Tom Cote told Bernier at the council meeting. He said there seemed to be an erroneous impression in the community that the “bad city council” wants to shut the restaurant down.

“Everyone expects the Cockpit Cafe to be there, including us. I’m hoping we can work something out,” Cote said.

The Cockpit Cafe had been facing an uncertain future after the Airport Advisory Committee and a subcommittee of the City Council agreed to recommend that the latest of two request for proposals submitted by Bernier be rejected — the first was rejected Nov. 14 and her newer submission was unchanged from the first.

Had Tuesday night’s vote not been forthcoming, the restaurant would have been on a month-to-month lease come Jan. 1. City Manager Steve Buck last week said he was prepared to invoke a 60-day notice available to either party sometime in the new year.

Airport Manager Allison Rogers on Tuesday laid out the timeline from when she first approached Bernier earlier this year to remind her that the lease crafted back in 2007 contained a provision for an RFP. Rogers met numerous times with Bernier and there were a number of sessions concerning the proposal with the Airport Advisory Committee.

A later meeting scheduled to talk about the proposed lease, how the two sides might come together and what renovations might be made never took place, after Bernier called to cancel the session, scheduled a new date, and then didn’t attend, city leaders said.

“You can’t assume we’re the bad guy and refuse to talk,” Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy told Bernier.

Cote pointed out that he had talked to Bernier as recently as Thursday to try and find a solution.

“You can tell me I am being difficult, but you aren’t looking at all the numbers,” Bernier said, noting some of her costs.

Cote said he’d advance a one-year extension proposal that had originated with Councilor Robert Stackpole.

“Are you interested in a 12 month extension?” Cote asked.

“Yes I am, very much,” Bernier responded.

Councilor Joseph Hanslip made the motion, which was seconded by Herlihy.

“Communication has broken down all the way around, “ Stackpole noted. “It is no one’s intent to put a thriving business out of business.”

The vote of the six councilors present was unanimous; Councilor Lucas Lanigan was absent.

“Thank you Mr. Mayor, the City Council and Allison ( the airport manager) also,” said Bernier. “I do want the second chance. I do not want to leave there, and I am so sorry it has gone to this point.”

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