By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — The temptation is often to cut losses and seek a quick fix, but City Administrator Jim Wagner said that won’t be the strategy in working with the struggling Legends 1925 Bar and Grill.
“We could come up with a short-term solution, but we’d have a long-term problem,” Wagner said. As of last week, the restaurant inside the Kennedy Recreation Center, 3101 West Road, owed the city approximately $53,000 in back rent and utility bills. The shortfall has been an issue for months: In August a debt of $35,000 resulted in an ultimatum from city council.
Wagner said that a payment was received by the city on August 20, but no further payments were made toward rent, utilities, equipment rental and concessions that kept the meter running.
“We haven’t received anything since then,” Wagner said. “Nor have we entered into an agreement as a result of the second default.”
Last week’s city council meeting included discussion between elected officials and restaurant owners that reviewed the current situation. The restaurant remains open for business, and Wagner and city officials will meet this week with representatives from the Kennedy Restaurant Group, which entered into a 2011 agreement with the city under which Legends would benefit from recreation center concessions in exchange for rent and other fees.
Although the past-due amount continues to grow, Wagner and Mayor Kyle Stack have expressed interest in working with the restaurant owners to keep the business open.
The city recently reopened the main floor concession stand that had been closed when Legends began doing business.
Currently it was estimated that the city subsidizes about $2,500 per month in utility costs. Wagner said the impulse might be to end the arrangement, but that such drastic measures would benefit neither party.
“City council would like to see a deal that may have been ill-conceived resolved,” Wagner said. “We want a long-term solution rather than short-term, and to make the bar and restaurant work; we need the right numbers so they can survive and the city can gain an income from that.”
Wagner said that past negotiations may have “started off on a bad foot,” but that recent discussions with the new principal partners are more promising. Legends will likely pay a lower monthly rent in exchange for more significant contributions to building and utilities costs.
“I’m optimistic that this is a deal that, in the long term, will benefit the Kennedy Ice Arena and the citizens,” Wagner said.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])