A SEAT AT THE TA­BLE:

LIUNA has ex­pressed an in­ter­est in tak­ing over the trou­bled wa­ter­front restau­rant Sar­coa

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

Toronto in­vestors aren’t the only peo­ple in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing with the trou­bled wa­ter­front restau­rant Sar­coa.

For sev­eral months last year, the Labourer’s In­ter­na­tional Union of North Amer­ica (LIUNA) ne­go­ti­ated buy­ing out the restau­rant’s sub­lease from the own­ers, re­port­edly for up to $5 mil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to LIUNA vice pres­i­dent Joe Mancinelli, the union “backed away” from the deal be­cause of the Sar­coa’s com­plex le­gal wran­gle with the Hamilton Wa­ter­front Trust (HWT).

But Mancinelli says LIUNA is still very much in­ter­ested in the prop­erty, pos­si­bly for a com­bi­na­tion com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment.

“We haven’t re­ally con­cluded any­thing or done any­thing, but we are still in­ter­ested. It’s a great, great prop­erty.”

Sar­coa, which sub­leases the city-owned for­mer Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre on Pier 8 from HWT, is su­ing the city and trust for $15-mil­lion for al­legedly break­ing their lease agree­ment by not per­mit­ting it to hold what it claims are fi­nan­cially es­sen­tial pa­tio mu­sic par­ties.

HWT, which de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, re­cently ter­mi­nated Sar­coa’s sub­lease for al­leged “pro­tracted breaches,” prompt­ing the own­ers to threaten fur­ther le­gal ac­tion and ef­fec­tively cast­ing into limbo what is widely seen as one of the har­bour’s pre­mière lo­ca­tions.

Mean­while, The Spec­ta­tor re­ported ear­lier this week that for­mer mayor Larry Di Ianni, act­ing on be­half of an uniden­ti­fied Toronto group, has given HWT a pro­posal which, among other things, would see the in­vestors pay Sar­coa’s rent for up to six months while they ex­plore de­vel­op­ment pos­si­bil­i­ties on the site.

The HWT board has nei­ther ac­cepted nor dis­missed the pro­posal. But, out­side of call­ing a spe­cial board meet­ing, it’s put off deal­ing with it un­til Sept. 12 — rather an odd re­sponse given Sar­coa’s rent is a main source of rev­enue and that the trust cur­rently owes the city some $384,000 in prop­erty taxes.

In­ter­est­ingly, it turns out Di Ianni, who op­er­ates a con­sult­ing busi­ness, was also act­ing as the go-be­tween dur­ing the LIUNA ne­go­ti­a­tions. Di Ianni says there are some sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the LIUNA and the cur­rent Toronto pro­pos­als but also some “real dif­fer­ences.”

A def­i­nite of­fer to pur­chase the sub­lease may be one of those dif­fer­ences. Ac­cord­ing to Sar­coa co-owner Sam De­stro, LIUNA of­fered to buy out the lease for “be­tween $3and $5 mil­lion,” the up­per end of which is roughly what he and his part­ner claim to have in­vested in the prop­erty.

De­stro says LIUNA walked away last De­cem­ber be­cause “there were some lo­gis­tics that they weren’t com­fort­able with.”

Al­though the Sar­coa sub­lease has been widely re­ported as a 10-year deal, it’s ac­tu­ally a 20-year con­tract — with two five-year op­tions — that com­menced in 2012.

The length of the con­tract and the great lo­ca­tion at the north­west cor­ner of Pier 8 may go a long way in ex­plain­ing why de­vel­op­ers are in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing the sub­lease. It would give them a solid foothold amid the loom­ing wider res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial re­de­vel­op­ment of Pier 8. Al­though LIUNA was only ne­go­ti­at­ing with De­stro and his part­ner, Marco Fa­iazza, HWT re­port­edly played along by agree­ing to sus­pend all le­gal ac­tion against Sar­coa for the du­ra­tion of the talks.

Mancinelli says LIUNA was act­ing in tan­dem with the Hi-Rise Group, its de­vel­op­ment part­ner on projects such as the Lis­ter Block and the $40-mil­lion stu­dent tower that’s go­ing up next door. He says the strife be­tween the HWT, city and Sar­coa re­mains a big ob­sta­cle to ex­plor­ing the “enor­mous po­ten­tial” of the wa­ter­front site.

“I can’t think of any de­vel­oper who wants to dive into the mid­dle of that myr­iad of con­flicts.”

Once the le­gal bat­tles are over, Mancinelli says, LIUNA would love to re-en­gage, even if it means tak­ing part in a for­mal re­quest for pro­posal process.

“That’s fine. We’re will­ing to com­pete. There’s no prob­lem there. But it needs to be a clean deal.”

Hope­fully, that may act as a bit of a wakeup call for all par­ties: A sense of ur­gency and lead­er­ship might go a long way right about now.

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