By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
The Boardwalk Market has been the subject of discussion at several meetings since the new Common Council began its term in January. Council concerns about tenant rent, utility payment and tenant responsibilities were expressed and discussed.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
While business is picking up at the Boardwalk in Dunkirk, business owners have been upset with city officials who have insinuated the businesses are not paying enough in rent.
Some of that discussion cast a cloud of sorts over the relationships between the store owners and their customers, according to Debora K. Becerra, the president of the Boardwalk Market Association. In a recent interview she said some of the information was not factual.
"There was the implication that the tenants are not paying their own utilities and in fact we do, we always have. Each unit is separately metered. We pay electric, we pay gas, we pay our own telephone. We each have our own insurance on the property," Becerra explained. "The only utility that was not paid for is water, and in fact not all the tenants have water. The only ones using water would be those food establishments and they have no problem with paying their water, they just have never been asked to.
"So I wasn't sure why it became such an issue, but it clearly gave the false impression and we've had a lot of people coming and saying, 'jeez, we're paying your utilities, we're doing this, we're doing that,' and that's clearly not the case."
Becerra said the tenants are a little bit shocked over council's negative reaction.
"No one's contacted any of us, no one's asked us for any of the facts. We have a very good relationship with the mayor's office and with the Department of Development. We work together with them, they work with us," she stated.
Becerra said a meeting has been held with Public Works Director Tony Gugino and the association has offered to help but it doesn't have a key to the supply room in the common area.
"I understand there's a concern with city help having to come down and do it but that's beyond our control. If someone wants to give us access, we're happy to work with them," Becerra stated. "We have had a good relationship. We've discussed the trash pickup, recycling. We were on top of all that with the other city officials so we were a little bit blindsided by the negative reaction.
"This is the most positive thing Dunkirk has had going in a long time and the public loves it, it does create business here. Businesses are gravitating toward the lake here around the Boardwalk. We get officials coming from all other municipalities looking at the model here and wanting to copy it and it's been a very, very positive thing. So the negative reaction is a little bit disconcerting."
Becerra was asked what the newer council members should have done.
"Maybe they didn't state what they really meant. I mean the mayor was clearly aware that water was the only issue and so I don't know why it was presented that it was all the utilities," she replied. "They all seemed to be saying we're not paying market rent. I've done some research in the area, I don't know what everybody else here pays, but in this particular store in the Blind Tiger, we pay about $12 a square foot. Bearing in mind utilities and insurance are on top of that, so just bare rent is $12 a square foot."
Becerra said her research revealed rentals of $10 and $12 per square foot for a Vineyard Drive and a Route 60 space, respectively.
"I don't understand how that's not market rent. Those places are in well-travelled plazas, they're in year-round spots and so we pay $12 a foot year-round," she stated before talking about the Market being a year-round operation as has been suggested.
The 300 square foot spaces the stores operate in lead to a smaller rent total.
"You're not going to have $50,000 rents. On a square footage basis, they're market rent, but they're only 300 square feet," Becerra said. "We, too, were surprised about the debt service. We had always been told that this was built with grant money, so it's a little surprising to us too to find that there was debt service on it.
"The rents, unfortunately, can never equal that because nobody here could afford to pay that kind of rent. I don't know what the answer is other than to continue to develop businesses in the area and the city makes out from that. I understand it's an issue, I can understand that, but again, we were as surprised as the general public to hear that."
As for council talk of operating year round, Becerra said the Association would love it if it were possible.
"We would love it, we would love it if people would come here year-round, but the reality of it is the day after Labor Day business falls off by about 75 percent," she explained. "If we could do something to attract people here, but no amount of word-of-mouth or marketing seems to do it. When Labor Day comes your season ends. Most of the businesses here can't survive just on the revenues here."
The Market is very seasonal, and it's a short one at that.
"We have 10 very good weeks in the summer but you have to be on top of your game not to pay it all back the rest of the year," she said. "We think it's a great location, it's a great venue, the people love it. Amazing the people that come through here during the summer from all areas of the nation, of the world, it's very positive."
Becerra said there have been no incidents at the Market she is aware of, including the use of alcohol.
"People take their kids to restaurants, there's alcohol in restaurants. I spoke with Yummy's Ice Cream, they do not see any negative impact on their business whatsoever from the serving of alcohol here," Becerra explained. "It's a good family place, there's something for everyone. The kids can have pizza and ice cream, the dad can have a beer and the moms can shop. We think it's an ideal venue, that's all. We've had negative backlash from the public thinking that they're subsidizing us somehow, and in fact, it's not true. We just would like the record set straight."
Becerra was asked about former residents coming to the Boardwalk Market.
"They are amazed. We see people who haven't come back here in 20 years, 10 years, they are amazed by the place," she replied. "They just love it, it's just so positive they can't believe it's Dunkirk. It's really been a great addition for the city."
As for information about the Boardwalk, Becerra said people are welcome to "come down ask questions."
"I will say in the change of regime in the mayor and the council there are a lot of things that they don't know. They're fact finding too and we have, again, met with Mayor Dolce," she stated. "We've exchanged a lot of information and we try to keep that flow of information because honestly, there's things we know that they may not know. So we're happy to work with them and have been. We have a great relationship with Mayor Dolce."
Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org