St. Paul has reached an $800,000 settlement — the third largest in its history — with Black Bear Crossings, a longtime Como Park cafe and banquet vendor whose owners sued for damages when the city declined to renew its lease at the park’s Lakeside Pavilion.
City officials have agreed to pay $250,000 within a month of signing the settlement, and another $137,500 each year through 2018. The agreement will go before the City Council for approval Wednesday.
Only two settlements in St. Paul’s history have been larger than the one reached with Black Bear: a $1.85 million settlement with developers over a parking lot dispute in 1994, and a $1 million settlement in March with the families of victims of last year’s landslide at Lilydale Regional Park.
David Glass, who owns Black Bear with his wife, Pamela, confirmed Friday that they will not fight to keep Black Bear open at Como beyond the end of the year, when the current lease ends.
Under the terms of the agreement, neither Glass nor City Attorney Sara Grewing would comment on the settlement other than to say “the case was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.” Both sides deny liability or wrongdoing.
The first payment will go to the Minneapolis law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, which represented Black Bear. Remaining payments will go directly to the Glasses, who have operated their cafe and banquet business at the Como pavilion since 2000.
The city may make the payments to the Glasses from revenues and commissions received from the pavilion’s operations.
The owners gave notice last year that they wanted to renew a five-year lease with the city. But city officials said they wanted to review the business’ performance and requested its financial records.
Last fall, officials informed the Glasses that they had decided not to extend the lease. They said that Black Bear had violated contract provisions, failed to live up to sales and service expectations, and refused to agree to revenue benchmarks set by the city.
Based on Como’s annual 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 next year. Although St. Paul didn’t receive a cut of Black Bear’s annual sales, officials said they wanted to find a new vendor to provide better service and draw more visitors to Como.
Black Bear responded by suing the city for damages and enforcement of its contract, saying that the city’s proposed sales figures had “no basis in reality” and accusing officials of defamation. David Glass, who is Ojibwe, accused the city of racism and said that the comments of city officials had damaged the owners’ reputations.
In June, a Ramsey County district judge ruled that Black Bear was eligible for damages over the city’s refusal to renew its lease. But the judge also denied Black Bear’s request to have the lease extended.
To facilitate transition of the pavilion’s management, the city and the Glasses have agreed that Black Bear will continue to handle weddings and other events at the Como pavilion through the end of the year and that the business will vacate the premises by Jan. 5. Black Bear will give the city a list of events already booked for 2015.