Document Sheds Light on Organization Taking Over Café Europa Space
*Editor’s note: Due to spacing within the print edition (coming out on Wednesday, Jan. 31), some of this article has been cut down. The full version online includes the last paragraph that was omitted from the print version. The following edit has been made as of Jan. 30: Justin Outling is a representative for District 3, not a City Council At-Large representative.
Since last week, concern has erupted on local social media about the fate of popular downtown restaurant Café Europa, which is housed in the Cultural Center on 200 N. Davie Street. Owner Jakub Pucilowski stated in my online-only article “Café Europa may lose its lease” that he expected his rent to increase substantially when a new lease was negotiated. He also said the controversy is not about having to pay more for this space, despite the effort by some on social media to frame it that way.
On Jan. 25, Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan posted on her Facebook page that she was going to ask that Pucilowski get the Right of First Refusal “to bring their lease into alignment to reflect similar terms and conditions of other downtown small business restaurants.”
On Jan. 26 at 3:09 p.m., she posted: “Regretfully I was informed by our City Attorney that it is his legal opinion that we should not interrupt the RFP process due to existing precedent in establishing RPFs [sic] for restaurant services in city facilities,” She also wrote that “according to city records Cafe Europa was notified on June 22nd by email.”
(The term RFP, meaning Request for Proposal, will be explained later in this article.)
The email sent to Pucilowski on June 22 from Wade Walcutt mentions a bidding process as a future possibility but says little definite about it, nor anything about Café Europa coming under the control of Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc., the semi-private entity that manages LeBauer Park. It is reproduced below in its entirety.
I’m contacting you with regard to our recent dialogue on the lease, set to expire February 2018. My last day in service to the City will be June 30, 2017, as I’ve accepted a new position out of state. Phil Fleischmann, Division Manager of Community Recreation Services (which includes the facility your lease is associated with), will serve as Interim Director beginning July 1.
Mr. Fleischmann (copied) will serve as your point of contact and will have the support of our City Manager’s Office (Chris Wilson, Assistant City Manager – also copied) with the management and next steps of the lease. Since we have exhausted the term of the current lease agreement, and all extension options, it’s the City’s typical practice to take a comprehensive review of all factors: the old contract; current market values; plus other considerations and determine a transparent and equitable course of action best suiting public interest, trust and efficient use of public funds while maximizing the City’s potential for ROI. This process often includes, but not limited to a request for qualifications, or request for proposals/business plans so all potential interested parties have an opportunity to bid on the opportunity.
Once a process and/or direction is developed (soon), clear and proactive communication plans, including access to have your questions answered quickly will be developed and provided so you can best prepare.
Wade Walcutt, Director
Parks and Recreation
City of Greensboro
On Jan. 29, Pucilowski sent me an email with the following statement, which is also reproduced in its entirety.
“We are immensely grateful for the outpouring of support and interest. At no point were we offered an increase in rent. Had it been offered, verbally or otherwise, it would have been accepted. If a bid for my space was necessary, and run transparently by the City of Greensboro, this issue would not exist. The only question that needs answering is this: How and why are DGPI [sic] suddenly running and profiting from a taxpayer-funded space?”
Pucilowski’s final sentence addresses a main point of the ongoing controversy. Supporters and patrons of Café Europa have posted on Vaughan’s Facebook decrying what they perceive as the lack of transparency in the process by which Café Europa’s space came under the management of Greensboro Downtown Parks Inc., the private-public partnership in charge of adjacent LeBauer Park. As the June 22 email demonstrates, until late last year, the restaurant leased its space in the Cultural Center from Parks and Recreation, which continues to manage the other units in that building.
Pucilowski and every Café Europa staff member I’ve talked to take exception to the assumption that Café Europa has benefitted substantially from the building of LeBauer Park. They all said that, while business did, once the park opened, rise from the near-disastrous low to which it had fallen during the period in which their parking disappeared, the street was blocked off, and the sand from the construction site made their patio space unusable, traffic has not been greater than what was prior to the disruption caused by LeBauer’s construction. That is also the impression of this writer, who has seen many warm summer afternoons and nights when the park was full but the Café Europa patio was empty.
GDPI’s RFP document, which I obtained at the meeting required of all interested bidders held on Jan. 25, suggests that, whatever restaurant is in the Cultural Center after April 2018, GDPI will play a much more “hands-on” role than Café Europa’s former landlord Parks and Recreation ever did.
A Request for Proposals is a procurement tactic used by an organization seeking bids on a property. The term RFP refers to both the RFP solicitation process and the RFP document used to solicit proposals.
In the interest in bringing increased transparency to this controversial process, YES! Weekly is making that document available to its readers. It can be read in its 18-page entirety.
If Pucilowski wins his bid to continue operating a restaurant in this space, he will not only have to pay increased rent but a share of his profits to GDPI. Moreover, the RFP document implies this “public-private” (the descriptor used on its LinkedIn page) organization will have more control over his establishment than Café Europa was ever required to cede to Parks and Recreation.
The Request for Proposal document was issued on Jan. 9 by Rob Overman, executive director of Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. Neither Overman’s name or position appears to be listed on GDPI’s website, but the rest of its Board of Directors can be found here. That 24-member board includes only two elected officials, Vaughan and District 3 Rep. Justin Outling. Other members include Downtown Greensboro Inc. president Zack Matheny, Action Greensboro Executive Director Cecilia Thompson, and 1618 Concepts proprietor Nick Wilson.