A wine bar proprietor off St. Paul's Mears Park is butting heads with real estate owner Jim Crockarell over who should pay thousands of dollars in assessments to expand the sidewalk for outdoor dining in front of the restaurant.
Rebecca Illingworth, who has run Bin Wine Bar in Crockarell's Park Square Court building for three years, said that Crockarell wants her to pay at least $900 per month or half of what he's being assessed for the sidewalk expansion along E. 6th Street, a figure north of $200,000.
Crockarell said he's never asked Illingworth to pay all or part of the assessment, which he and adjacent landlord Dave Brooks agreed to cover last winter when the St. Paul City Council approved the sidewalk expansion over the opposition of the Heritage Preservation Commission.
Brooks and Crockarell, who own the buildings on 6th Street across from Mears Park that house the popular Barrio and Bulldog restaurants as well as Bin, last year asked the city to nearly double the width of their sidewalk to create a promenade for outdoor seating.
They sweetened the plan by pledging to pay the assessments, which total more than $400,000. They had the backing of Mayor Chris Coleman and City Council Member Dave Thune, who represents downtown on the council.
Illingworth likes the idea of a wider sidewalk, too. But she said that Crockarell wants her to renegotiate her lease to include the assessment.
If not, she said, he could replace her with another restaurant when her lease expires in three years after having spent thousands on fees, permits and furniture to use the additional outdoor space. She said she's already invested $600,000 in the wine bar.
"We have fantastic customers and we don't want to go anywhere," she said. "I'm very nervous for the future of my business."
Crockarell tells a different story. He said Illingworth approached him about signing a 10-year lease and that he told her he would have to charge her proportionately more for the expanded outdoor area.
Until her current lease expires, he said, she has full use of the sidewalk for no additional charge.
"At the end of three years, I may ask her for a rent increase," he said. "My rent is going to be based on the fact that my tenants are making money off the sidewalk that I'm paying for. No one is imposing anything on her that she has not signed a lease for."
Brooks and Crockarell's plan to expand the sidewalk, intended to accommodate more outdoor diners and perhaps draw more restaurants to the Lowertown block, proved controversial last winter. Many Lowertown residents and businesses said it would add noise and congestion while worsening a parking squeeze.
In January, the Heritage Preservation Commission denied the application to expand the sidewalk, saying it would disrupt Lowertown's historic street grid. The City Council, on a 6-1 vote, overruled the commission. Construction is expected to begin on the sidewalk next month.
Crockarell will be assessed for 66 percent of the sidewalk expansion and Brooks the remainder, based on their buildings' frontage. They will pay off a city loan with simple interest over a 20-year period.
Illingworth said that Crockarell first suggested that she pay the full monthly assessment of $1,800. But even the $900 that she said he proposes she pay now amounts to a 30 percent increase in her rent.
That wouldn't be the end of her additional costs, she said. If she chooses to use the expanded space — she already has a few tables outside — she said she would have to pay sewer availability charges and higher food, liquor and patio permit fees; buy more furniture and outdoor service stations, along with permits for outdoor furniture storage and noise, and more insurance.
Whether that investment pays off would be subject to Minnesota's changeable summer weather, Illingworth said.