After running the food and beverage operation there since 2000, Black Bear Crossings is being booted out of the Como Park Pavilion by the city of St. Paul for breach of contract, officials said Tuesday.
Black Bear Crossings, in turn, said the city was the party doing the breaching and fired off a lawsuit claiming it's been damaged by St. Paul and asking the District Court to uphold and enforce the pavilion contract.
Not only that, Black Bear co-owner David Glass said, the city's action is racially motivated because he is Ojibwe and a member of the White Earth Band.
"They now want to renege on it and break the contract. That's not new to us in Indian Country," he said.
Brad Meyer, a spokesman for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, denied that the city's action had anything to do with Glass being American Indian. The city had the option not to renew its five-year contract with Black Bear at the end of 2013 and chose to exercise it.
City cites taxpayers' interests
The reasons, he said: Black Bear had violated a number of contract provisions, failed to live up to reasonable sales and service expectations for the site and wouldn't agree to future revenue benchmarks set by the city.
"We act on behalf of the city's taxpayers, and we wouldn't be doing that if we continued to let this vendor operate," he said.
Meyer said that even though the city gets no cut of Black Bear's annual sales, St. Paul wants to provide the best possible service for park patrons and draw more people to Como.
Glass, who owns Black Bear with his wife, Pamela, said that they decided in June to renew the contract for another five years and complied with the city's requests to review its books and records. They now believe the city asked to see their books as a pretext for canceling the relationship.
"At the end of the day, there's right and wrong, and what they're doing is wrong," Glass said.
But in a letter sent Tuesday to Black Bear's attorneys, Assistant City Attorney Virginia Palmer wrote that the parties had failed to reach an agreement on "minimum service expectations" for the next five years.
Based on Como's annual numbers of 4.4 million visitors and the business done by Minneapolis park vendors, the city wanted Black Bear to meet sales standards of $500,000 in 2014 and $750,000 in 2015. Black Bear's suit said those figures "have no basis in reality."
Palmer also noted that Black Bear was late with its annual rent payments to the city from 2009 to 2012. Those payments, which ranged from $25,000 to $28,000, comprise the vendor's sole obligation to the city.
Current reservations honored
The city will honor current reservations for Black Bear's banquet facility, and current operations will continue until a date to transfer services is set.
The Parks Department plans to start working with the district council and City Council Member Amy Brendmoen to determine what the community would like to see at Como and then initiate a competitive request-for-proposals process, Meyer said. Glass is welcome to submit a proposal, he said.
"I don't argue the gross sales should be more," Glass said. "We think they should be and had a plan to increase those sales. But they've been set from day one to have a business from Minneapolis come over here and kick us out."