Mys­tery Toronto group in­ter­ested in Sar­coa site

Restau­rant owner says group would pay Sar­coa’s rent for six months; fu­ture of site re­mains open

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL

FOR­MER MAYOR Larry Di Ianni is work­ing be­hind the scenes on be­half of Toronto in­vestors to try to solve the messy le­gal bat­tle over the har­bourfront restau­rant Sar­coa.

Di Ianni, who runs a con­sult­ing firm and is reg­is­tered as a lob­by­ist with the City of Hamil­ton, is keep­ing the name of the group con­fi­den­tial.

But he’s put for­ward a pro­posal to the Hamil­ton Water­front Trust that of­fers “sug­ges­tions and very tan­gi­ble kinds of so­lu­tions.”

“I’m not at lib­erty to give chap­ter and verse be­cause peo­ple who might be in­ter­ested in be­com­ing part of the so­lu­tion have not given me per­mis­sion to talk about it pub­licly, but also be­cause the pro­posal is still out there for peo­ple to take up, at least in the next lit­tle while if peo­ple are in­ter­ested.”

The Water­front Trust, al­ready locked in an ugly $15-mil­lion le­gal bat­tle with the own­ers of Sar­coa, re­cently ter­mi­nated the restau­rant’s 10-year sub­lease for al­legedly breach­ing con­di­tions and not pay­ing rent.

Sar­coa co-owner Sam De­stro de­nies the al­le­ga­tions but cor­rob­o­rates that dis­cus­sions in­volv­ing a Toronto group have taken place.

Ac­cord­ing to De­stro, the group pro­poses to pay Sar­coa’s monthly rent of $35,000 in ad­vance for six months in ex­change for the right to dis­cuss fu­ture de­vel­op­ment at the restau­rant site on the

north­west cor­ner of Pier 8, for­merly known as the Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre.

De­stro says un­der that sce­nario Sar­coa would re­main open and con­tinue to op­er­ate un­der the same own­ers.

Werner Plessl, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the trust, con­firms the trust re­ceived a pro­posal be­hind closed doors at its July 11 board meet­ing but de­clines to re­veal de­tails.

“It hasn’t been com­pleted yet,” Plessl said, not­ing the un­so­licited pro­posal will be dealt with at the next reg­u­lar board meet­ing on Sept. 12.

It’s not clear what the Toronto group’s ul­ti­mate in­ter­est is, but pre­sum­ably it’s drawn to the prospect of ac­quir­ing the sub­lease to pur­sue op­por­tu­ni­ties of its own.

De­stro says he’s “stunned” that the trust went ahead with ter­mi­nat­ing Sar­coa’s lease even though it knew a po­ten­tially gamechang­ing pro­posal by a third party was on the table.

“If the Water­front Trust was truly in­ter­ested in solv­ing this and not caus­ing panic and chaos (from can­celled events at Sar­coa), there was a way out. But they chose a dif­fer­ent route.”

De­stro de­nies the trust’s al­le­ga­tions of un­paid rent. De­stro says he and co-owner Marco Fa­iazza have not missed a pay­ment since Nov. 15, 2015, when a Hamil­ton judge or­dered Sar­coa to re­sume its stopped pay­ments while is­su­ing a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion pre­vent­ing the trust from seiz­ing its goods and chat­tels.

De­stro con­tends the bulk of the $226,000 the trust now claims as un­paid rent is ac­tu­ally ar­rears pro­tected by the in­junc­tion, which Sar­coa has been pay­ing off at the court-or­dered rate of $3,000 per month.

De­stro ad­mits Sar­coa “poked the bear” by con­sis­tently de­lay­ing pay­ments of its reg­u­lar monthly rent for a few days to demon­strate “frus­tra­tion.”

But he says be­fore the trust moved to ter­mi­nate the lease, Sar­coa of­fered to pay the June and ac­cel­er­ated rent for the next few months.

“I think the cit­i­zens of Hamil­ton, the coun­cil­lors, the mayor all have to scratch their head and say what’s go­ing on here,” De­stro said.

The in­creas­ingly bit­ter squab­ble stems from a dis­pute over a bylaw ban­ning out­door mu­sic, which Sar­coa claims was killing its pa­tio-party busi­ness. The own­ers in­sist their lease gives them the right to play am­pli­fied mu­sic. The trust de­nies it.

Di Ianni says when he first got in­volved he quickly dis­cov­ered noise vi­o­la­tions was the tip of an ice­berg which now in­cludes bro­ken re­la­tion­ships and a lack of trust on all sides, com­pli­cated by the fact the city ac­tu­ally owns the prop­erty, which it leases to the trust, which in turn sub­leases it to Sar­coa.

“I’ve tried to cut through it, put aside feel­ings and re­la­tion­ships and just put for­ward some pro­pos­als that might have been in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple to look at,” Di Ianni said.

Given all this cor­rod­ing tur­moil, let’s hope the trust’s board mem­bers rise to the oc­ca­sion. In­stead of wait­ing for Septem­ber to deal with Di Ianni’s pro­posal, why not call a spe­cial meet­ing and re­view it sooner rather than later?

For­mer Hamil­ton mayor Larry Di Ianni

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Water­front Trust shut Sar­coa down over an al­le­ga­tion of un­paid rent; the owner de­nies that.

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