Public-Private Partnership Explored For Harbor Restaurant

By: William F. Galvin

Eastward Companies began asbestos removal this week in preparation for the demolition of the harbormaster's office at Saquatucket Harbor. The building was scheduled to be torn down this week. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The town is considering drafting a request for proposals for a long-term lease to establish a restaurant on the knoll overlooking Saquatucket Harbor. The town has received one inquiry interested in a public/private partnership to build an eatery at the town-owned marina.

As part of the initial landside development plan now underway, a small restaurant or snack shack had been considered, but funding fell short. Since the decision was made to exclude the snack shack, which would have driven the cost over the $3 million approved for renovations to harbor facilities and former the Downey property, there have been discussions popping up about establishing a restaurant through a public/private agreement.

There was speculation a private entity might be willing to design and construct a restaurant, if a long-term lease was possible. Absent any provisions for such a restaurant in the final plan, such an entity would also have to provide a septic system.

Matt Hart, who served as the Saquatucket Harbor development committee chairman and is the chairman of the waterways committee, informed Town Administrator Christopher Clark and Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill on Nov. 21 that there has been interest expressed from a private consortium or two in building a 100-seat restaurant at the harbor.

In a letter to town officials, Hart had stated the restaurant would meet the goals specified by town meeting voters. He further pointed out it would be constructed and maintained at no cost to the taxpayers and the town would collect lease fees, taxes, and meal taxes while creating jobs.

“The result is that Harwich taxpayers will achieve what they voted for but with an additional annual funding bonus,” Hart said in the letter.

Attached to Hart's letter was a letter sent to Hart and Clark by Tom Johnson, Jr. of Harwich Port, touting the benefits of a public/private partnership to develop a new restaurant.

“If this is the case, this venture is of great interest to me and seems to be in the best interest of Harwich residents,” Johnson's letter stated. “We are committed to creating a high quality, full-service restaurant with stunning water views at very favorable terms for the town of Harwich.”

Hart and Clark were before the planning board a couple of weeks ago for an informal discussion on the a restaurant concept. Hart said there were early discussions about a 100-seat restaurant but town meeting specified a 60-seat restaurant.

“We want to make each of the committees aware we are thinking about this,” Hart said, adding he has spoken with the conservation commission and there is room to the north side of the site for a restaurant.

Clark emphasized that the discussions are informal, pointing out the board of selectmen has not yet weighed in on the idea. Selectmen previously expressed interest in a restaurant and supported the original article that included a restaurant. Clark said he has to have a conversation with selectmen to see what their interests are.

There are three options the board might consider, he said: a snack shack, a 60-seat or 100-seat restaurant. An RFP could be drafted incorporating all three options, he said. The plan is to have that discussion with selectmen at their Jan. 8 meeting.

The snack shack was approved for a 10-year lease, Clark told the planning board,but if a larger restaurant is sought a 30-year lease may be necessary and that would require board of selectmen and town meeting approval.

“The concern I have is are we putting too many restaurant seats in Harwich?” Planning Board Chairman Larry Brophy said. “The point is a lot of restaurants do not survive.”

Hart said the restaurant would be seasonal,” though he added he represented the town, not a potential operator.

There was discussion with the planning board about parking issues and activities proposed across the street, where Outer Cape Health Services will be expanding its medical facilities.

“If they make it into another Fontaine (Center) area, we've got a problem,” Hart concurred.

“The cart's before the horse here,” said Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill, who was in the audience during the discussion. “I'm not sure who Matt (Hart) represents, but I think it's completely inappropriate.”

With that, planning board member James Atkinson requested the board defer further discussion until the matter goes before the board of selectmen. The planning board concurred.

Clark said after the meeting he hopes to get some direction from the board at its Jan. 8 meeting.