A new restaurant in Como Park’s historic lakeside pavilion brought in more than $1 million in its first four months of business and is projected to collect $1.6 million in revenue by year’s end, St. Paul city officials said Tuesday.
The figures for the new Como Dockside restaurant were released by the city two months before a City Council race involving the pavilion’s former vendor, David Glass, and incumbent Amy Brendmoen. The city ousted Glass from the pavilion after it said his Black Bear Crossings cafe was underachieving and not meeting city-set revenue goals. He later sued the city for breach of contract, and won an $800,000 settlement.
City officials, however, said Tuesday that the Dockside’s performance so far is proof that the pavilion needed a stronger business and better amenities to draw customers. And they forecast more success into next year, projecting total revenue of more than $2.4 million for the full 12 months of 2016.
Of that, more than $200,000 is expected to flow into city coffers for capital improvements, park maintenance and to continue paying the settlement with Glass. That $200,000-plus is 10 times the rent the city once received for the space.
“What we had always hoped for was that this beautiful facility on Como Lake would be used to its potential,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “This summer proved that people will flock to it in droves.”
Glass, who was ousted after years of running his coffee shop and banquet business there, said he doesn’t dispute the figures — just the city’s tactics in removing him.
“Maybe the real question is: Do you really think at the end of the day that breaking a contract really models to the community and to others what it means to keep your word?” he said. “Is that good business? Is it good business ethics — just to make a few more dollars?”
Featuring New Orleans-style food, along with wine, beer, cocktails and live music, the Dockside has drawn large crowds all summer. Jon Oulman, who runs the restaurant with his partners — owners of the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul and the 331 Club in Minneapolis — said the restaurant “has been slammed” by big crowds. And it hasn’t even started its banquet business yet.
“Things are going really well,” Oulman said, adding that an upcoming farmers market, a pumpkin patch and continued Music in the Park events promise to keep people coming. “Are we happy? Very much so. I think it’s going to be a really good deal for us.”
Only four years ago, the city’s revenue from Black Bear Crossings was the $29,000 that Glass paid in rent. By 2014, that amount was $20,000. City officials wanted more — something similar to lakeside restaurants in Minneapolis — as well as amenities to appeal to Como Park’s 4.4 million visitors a year.
The renovation, which cost Oulman’s group $200,000, created a year-round restaurant, a concession stand off the pavilion’s walking trails and added a rental business that includes kayaks, canoes, standing paddle boards and Surrey bikes.
The city’s deal with Oulman’s group, which runs through 2020, requires that the new vendors guarantee annual revenue payments to the city of at least $100,000. In addition, a percentage of revenue is set aside for improvements. The agreement with the city will be reviewed each year.
The numbers released by the city Wednesday show Como Dockside well on its way to meeting its obligations, Oulman said.
“These folks know they get a piece of every dollar that comes in the door, so they want us to make some dollars,” Oulman said. As for the money that the city is paying Glass, he added: “They’ll get that money back in spades.”
Brendmoen, who along with parks and recreation director Mike Hahm challenged the city’s contract with Glass and prompted the lawsuit, said Wednesday that the new operation means more than an increased infusion of cash. It means new vibrancy for a community resource.
“I live near there and I see the Surrey bikes going around the lake, people on kayaks, people standing on paddle boards,” she said. “So many more things being offered that so many more people are participating in — spinning classes, yoga, movie nights. There is something there to tickle everybody’s toes.”
But, Brendmoen was asked, was making the switch worth all the trouble? Fifth Ward voters will choose between Glass and Brendmoen on Nov. 3.
“I would say that the numbers do show that we are coming out on top in the big picture, although I think that the lawsuit was unfortunate for everybody,” she said. “The good news going forward is that we have a great public amenity that is serving everybody.”