by John Yeon, has architectural significance.
(Photos © J. Maus)
Negotiations between a private developer and the Portland Parks bureau that would have created a new bike services facility and cafe at the former Tom McCalls restaurant site in Waterfront Park, have ended.
According to both a representative at the parks bureau and Ken Nichols, the deal went south primarily because Laughing Planet Cafe, expected to be an anchor tenant in the development, pulled out of the project late in the negotiations.
“The big dent in our proposal was Laughing Planet leaving at the end,” Nichols told me via telephone this morning. Nichols said time ran out and he was not able to put together the right mix of tenants that would have resulted in the financial return required to pay the lease terms set by the parks bureau.
“Even with Laughing Planet there,” he said, “it’s debatable we would have reached an agreement with the City…but I think we would have gotten their with Laughing Planet.” Nichols said the the cafe portion of the development was 3/4 of the revenue and that, “It’s hard to deal without that.”
Richard Satnick, the founder of Laughing Planet, said he and his two other partners decided to pull out because the plans — which he says changed significantly from when negotiations first started — didn’t fit their core business model.
“Ken had to scale back his plans so much that it was not the original world-class bicycling hub we though we were getting into.”
–Richard Satnick, Laughing Planet Cafe
On the phone this morning, Satnick said “It was a tough decision for us,” and that he is “sorry that it’s not going to go forward.” Satnick admitted that he was a bit over-excited about the project initially. “I bought into the original vision too hard. I was excited about building a world-class bike facility on the Waterfront.” But, he said, once his partners started to ask hard questions about it, they realized it was “just too complicated and too risky”.
(Satnick also added that looming enonomic uncertainty made him even less likely to commit and that in hindsight, he should have taken more notice of Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, who opted out of the project months ago.)
That “original vision” by Nichols was to create a full-service “bike hub” at the location that would have included bike repair, a small bike shop, parking, and other bike commuter amenties along with a bike rental operation and a cafe.
However, both Satnick and Nichols expressed frustration that the plans were ultimately whittled down to just bike rentals and a cafe. And that, they say, is the doing of the parks bureau.
“I think parks has a fair share of responsibility in this,” said Satnick, “they were unwilling to let Ken do a lot of work to make the site into something really special. Ken had to scale back his plans so much that it was not the original world-class bicycling hub we though we were getting into.”
Nichols concurs, and said that by the end of the negotiations, the cafe would have been on the hook to generate 3/4 of the revenue. Nichols laid less blame on the parks bureau but did say that it was “very difficult” to do the bike amenities part of the project because “the City made it difficult to add to the site.”
Nichols said adding the bike-specific amenities to the project (anchored by a small bike repair and retail shop) would have required an investment that he couldn’t recoup under the terms of the City’s lease.
Todd Lofgren, the business development coordinator for the parks bureau said it just came down to “trying to figure out how to make the finances work” and that the parties “weren’t able to come to terms.”
Lofgren says they’re canceling the existing RFP to develop the site but that that “doesn’t mean Ken or others can’t come back to us to try and make something work”.
But Nichols seems unlikely to try again. He told me that once he realized the bike commuter infrastructure side of the project wouldn’t happen, he lost his “passion for this location”. Now he’ll look to other locations (he’s got two already in the pipeline) where his Bike Republic concept can find a home.
In the end, Satnick said it’s, “unfortunate that Ken gets caught holding the bag. His idea that was proposed was very exciting and it would have worked very well.”