For the last 20 years, The Strand, which includes a theater room as well as an additional banquet hall with a bar, has been leased to Strand Ventures for $1 per year.

And just yesterday, despite having received more revenue producing offers, and despite having received input from members of the public who called on them to accept the highest offer, Township officials went out of their way, above and beyond, to again awarded the lease to Strand Ventures!

The Strand building is owned by Lakewood Township. It used to be maintained by the Lakewood Development Corporation (LDC), one of the arms of the Township, and in 2002 they signed the 20 year lease.

Per the terms of this lease, Strand Ventures kept the revenue from renting out the theater and banquet hall, as well as from selling concessions at all theater events, and is responsible to maintain the day-to-day general upkeep and cleanliness of the theater. They were also supposed to pay for the utilities they use. The owner gets charged for these utilities and the tenant was supposed to be required to repay for the utilities when the owner demands repayment.

The owner is responsible for snow and removal, and financing and construction of capital improvements to the preservation of the historic building.

In March 2019 the building was transferred over to the Lakewood Industrial Commission (LIC), another arm of the Township which also oversees the Lakewood Airport and promotes commercial growth in the industrial parks.

As such, when the 20 year lease was up in July 2022, it was up to the LIC to decide how to proceed next.

At the time, when asked if the LIC will renew this lease under more profitable terms, Steve Reinman, the Director of Economic Development and the Industrial Commission responded simply that "the lease renewal process is not completed as [of] yet. The current lessee is continuing on a month to month basis while that works out."

Since then, the LIC got down to some serious work fleshing out the intricate details of the new lease, and in November they began the tedious task of publishing a Request for Proposals from prospective lessees.

Bearing in mind that The Strand includes its own banquet hall and bar which could be used for small events of up to 80 seated guests, sounds like a great opportunity for the right person to place an interest in bidding for a fair price, right?

That would make sense, except that Lakewood Township is not one to lose an opportunity to be on the losing end of a possibly good deal!

Firstly, the 5-year lease solicitation, in the form of a Request for Proposals (RFP), announced very loudly that "only companies with 5 years experience in theater management need apply"! Hmm.... That sure does not sound too inclusive.

Additionally, the RFP specified that "The Commission is not obligated to award a contract to the respondent who submits the highest price!"

Hm... Why not? Seems that the Industrial Commission was purposely leaving open room to not have to accept any offers higher than the $1 per year that Strand Ventures currently pays!

Finally, just in case the first 2 items didn't get their point across, the RFP continues to specify that "The Commission reserves the right to reject any and all proposals... or to abandon the project for any reason... The Commission reserves the right to enter into any contract deemed to be in the best interest of the Commission."

By the way, as noted above, the previous 20 year lease gave freely to Strand Ventures the one way that The Strand does collect some money - from selling concessions at all theater events. Now that this lease was finally up for renewal, sounds like it was a great opportunity to reverse this deal and allocate those monies to go to the Industrial Commission. However, Lakewood Township is not one to give up a perfect opportunity and therefore, the RFP clearly specified that the Industrial Commission "will not seek any revenue from the sale of alcohol!"

Amazingly, despite all the writing on the wall warning "the unchosen" to stay away, the LIC received two proposals which were more profitable that the Strand Ventures proposal.

At yesterday's public meeting, the LIC received a number of public comment emails urging them to get the best buck for the taxpayers and award the lease to the highest bidder.

Once again, the LIC members did not fail to fail, and they awarded the lease to Strand Ventures.

Their Resolution of Award, (which, quite curiously, was hidden from the public until after the actual vote on the matter), states that the lease is being awarded following a "full review of submissions and data received."

(Fun fact: According to public records obtained by FAA News, for the year ending 2020, Strand Ventures included in their list of officers a number of Lakewood Township officials, including Industrial Commission Executive Director Steven Reinman, Industrial Commission members Robert Kirchner, Tom Calabaro, Greg Stafford-smith, CDBG Director Ervin Oross, Shade Tree Commission member Craig Theibault, and Mayor Ray Coles. However, since then many of these Township & LIC members have left the Strand Ventures Board.)

LIC Board Member Tom Calabaro offered the motion. LIC Vice President Justin Flancbaum offered the second. Mr. Calabaro, Mr. Flancbaum, and Board Member Hal Halvorsen then voted to approve the lease award.

LIC Board Chairman Robert Kirchner and Board Member Greg Stafford-smith abstained from voting.

The members of the Lakewood Development Corporation and Industrial Commission are not elected, rather they are appointed by the Township Committee. Their tasks primarily include boosting the economic growth in this town. Leasing the Strand for an annual amount of $1 while Strand Ventures keeps the rental and concession revenue hardly sounds like a good deal for the taxpayers of Lakewood Township - especially when they received more profitable proposals and especially when they received public comment urging them to get the best buck for the taxpayers.

[As previously reported here and here on FAA News, despite claiming to be a "business community ombudsman on behalf of the township", the Industrial Commission has unfortunately deliberately ignored numerous public comment emails which were sent in to be read at their public meetings, especially when the comments were regarding the apparently sensitive topic of The Strand's finances....]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So TOT, why are they awarding this contract to them again? Who's benefiting from this?