Question: What is the rationale behind your proposal?
Answer: As a basis for our proposal, the responses to the Citizen’s Survey done in 2014 have been most informative. (click here). The Survey was sent to 1100 households, about a third of the Town and representative of our demographics. Around 360 valid responses were received to the questions about the reuse for the two buildings, and we think this gives a pretty good sense of what the Town wants the buildings to be used for. A real full-service restaurant is close to the top of the list, right behind an Art Center. Providing space for valuable and important non-profit organizations and having event space for rent also ranks high. In our proposal, the Art Gallery/exhibition space will be a desirable amenity for the Town and the full-service, professionally run restaurant in the Old Library will ensure that the operation is self-sustaining in the future, so as not to burden the taxpayers. The rent from the full-service restaurant and the commercial space will make it possible to assure the non-profit organizations that space will be available at the low price that they can afford. We want the Tavern to become the "home" for some of the Town's valued civic organizations.
Question: What kind of Art Center do you envision?
Answer: Most of the Old Reading room in the Old Library as well as the Ballroom in the Tavern will be available for art exhibits, lectures, cultural events etc. and the close proximity to the restaurant will make for a mutually beneficial relationship. We hope that the Art Community in Weston (or the Art Port) will take charge of organizing the activities in those spaces. The space on the lower floor of the Library will also be available for art classes, such as those being proposed by the Art Port group. Details on all this will be developed once the Selectmen - and the Town - have decided on the best way to proceed.
Question: The cost of renovating the Josiah Smith Tavern is almost twice as much as for the Old Library, and it is a more difficult site to make self-supporting. Why not do the Old Library first?
Answer: Doing the Old Library first is entirely feasible under our proposal, and the economics are even more attractive, since it will be the "financial engine" of a combined project. We show the economics here:
Question: Why are you proposing a restaurant in the Library rather than in the Josiah Smith Tavern or the Barn?
Answer: Two respected experts: Kevin Sheehan of "the Restaurant Group" a leading restaurant broker in the Boston area, and David Gibbons, a restaurant consultant and former General Manager of the Swisshotel on Washington Street had a look at both locations, and stated unequivocally that the Library was far better suited structurally, foot-traffic wise, and for the build-out required by a restaurant, and also that the Old Library, with its oak beams and paneling had a better "look and feel" for the kind of warm, cozy place we have in mind. This was further confirmed by Elizabeth Akehurst-Moore, the owner of "Trail's End" restaurant in nearby Concord, which is a good model for our proposal.
Question: In connection with an earlier proposal, the Town was told that only a large restaurant of 150 seats or more with a large bar would be financially viable in Weston. What makes you think a cozy 60-80 seat place with a small bar would work?
Answer: Things have changed considerably in the last few years. The advice we have been given (see above) is that many small restaurants are now very successful in the suburbs, partly because rents are much more reasonable than in Boston. "Trail's End", a similar restaurant in neighboring Concord started with 53 seats and is now generally using 75-85 seats of their space, offers a varied menu with entrees in the $18-22 range and an average bill of $35 including wine, and is doing fine financially.
Question: What kind of a restaurant do you foresee?
Answer: We think that the kind of restaurant 78% of respondents to the Town Survey had in mind was a place that was open 6 days a week, esp. weekends, was relatively informal with a warm, friendly athmosphere, and where a professional chef and staff offered an interesting, tasty and modestly priced menu for dinner (and eventually lunch as well), where people could make reservations at times convenient to them (and stay as long as they liked), and possibly had jazz music from time to time. A place where there was a small bar (like 10-12 seats) to watch TV and have a drink before dinner, had a reasoable wine list, the kind of a place "...where everybody knows your name..". It would be a conveniently located in town to bring friends for an evening, and even be a place where local organizations like the Rotary Club could have meetings and events. The "Trail's End" restaurant in Concord - ranked # 4 out of 48 places in the area - could be seen as a model, and their owner confirmed our functional and financial forecast as reasonable, and might even be interested in operating it.
Question: Restaurants often fail. What happens if the restaurant doesn't make it?
Answer: That's true, and might happen.....though we will obviously make every effort to choose a responsible and reliable operator for the restaurant. We have been assured by our restaurant broker that the interest in suburban restaurants is substantial and finding a replacement would be quite feasible and not take long.
Question: If the restaurant goes into the Old Library, won't that foreclose some of the other good ideas like the Makerspace/Media Center which is supported by the Library and the Schools?
Answer: There may well be a number of reasons for the Town to support a Makerspace, and certainly the Media Center could benefit from a new location, which would free up space in the Brook School for more affordable housing. However, now that the Case Estates issue has been resolved in favor of the Town, the large horse barn and the Red School House (see photo) become available, and the Barn is likely to be a much better spot for the Makerspace/Media center, see picture below:
It's a larger building with good access, there's ample parking, it's located midway between the new Library and the Schools, the building is in good shape and if the Town wants a Makerspace, locating it there seems to make more sense and might even cost less.
Question: How will the buildings be managed, and who will look after them?
Answer: A managment company "Weston Civic Center LLC" will be formed, overseen by a Board of respected residents. It will apply for 501.c.3 non-profit status so that it can do advantageous fund-raising, though we will not need that to remain self-supporting. (our model is the private Weston Forest and Trail Association, which looks after the trails and outlooks in Town in close collaboration with the Conservation Commission) . A professional real estate management company will look after the details of operation under contract. We have allowed ample money in our financial forecast for that. Each tenant will be responsible for their own utilities, and for cleaning and maintaining the areas they occupy, under rules set by the Weston Civic Center LLC company. The grounds, the parking lot, the sidewalks, the septic system etc. will be maintained by the management company and the costs will be covered by the rent.
Question: Do you plan to buy the buildings from the Town?
Answer: No. We expect to operate under a long-term lease. We think the Town will want to keep title to the site to preserve their options in the unlikely event that some unexpected event occurs. If, at some point in the future, the Town were to decide to sell the buildings and the site, it should only be done at fair and full value.
Question: If the restaurant winds up in the Old Library, then the Tavern, Connector and Barn will only serve a couple of non-profits, who only use it once a week or so. Why should we spend a lot money fixing up the Tavern if it won't see much activity?
Answer: This assumes that, under the improved conditions after restoration, things would simply continue just as they are doing now. Yet both organizations, in their submissions to the Working Group clearly state that they intent to increase their outreach and activities in the restored spaces. The Weston Historical Society seeks more exhibit space and would be open more hours (“…hold public programs, increase its visibility and membership base…”. The Women's Community League notes in their submission that they use the Barn for “…Speaker Series, small fund raisers, movies, gardening workshops…” in addition to making it available for private catered parties, Arts and Crafts shows, etc. Its ground floor location and an enlarged catering kitchen makes this a better solution than the second floor ballroom where there is no catering kitchen. The ballroom would be better suited to lectures, exhibits and meetings. It is our firm belief that the Tavern section would become a lot more vibrant than it is now, even when the restaurant is in the Old Library. And if, as some people seem to think, the Clothing Exchange will wither away, the connector could be rented as commercial space to an antique shop, or even house a bakery/coffee shop.
Question: Do you need to solicit funds and donations to make your plan self-supporting?
Answer: No. Our plan provides suffficient funds from rental income from the restaurant and other spaces to fully cover operating costs, and even return some money to the Town. We do not need to ask for donations. However, we will establish a 501.c.3 "Friends..." entity to add to the endowment fund left by the Jones sisters, to provide a cushion against unexpected events, and to insure continued awareness and support from the Town.
Question: What about parking?
Answer: We believe that a small 20 space lot west of the Tavern building together with the 10-12 existing spaces on School Street should suffice for the 60-80 seat restaurant. It's only if the Ballroom is fully utilized for functions that a larger parking lot would be needed, and we would discuss this with the Traffic Committee and Planning Board. Perhaps use of the Ballroom could be limited to small exhibits, with limited attendance, for which the 40 or mores spaces of street parking would be available. All this needs to be discussed with the Traffic committee and the Planning Board.
Question: The Old Library is not covered by the current liquor license, which is only for the Tavern. Won't this preclude consideration of a proposal that includes a restaurant in the Old Library?
Answer: While a series of steps are needed for a liquor license to be granted, beginning with a Town Meeting vote, it is the opinion of a law firm specialized in the liquor-license field that it will take not more than 18 months thereafter to obtain a license for the Old Library. (In fact, the same law firm handled the liquor license for the Weston Golf Club, and that took less than 8 months). We have been verbally assured by the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and by a co-chair of the Working Group that, IF our proposal is selected on its merits by the Town, obtaining the liquor license will not be an obstacle. Therefore, given the time needed for design and construction, there will be ample time for the license to be issued.
Question: What about the Trust fund left by the Jones sisters?
Answer: The Town Meeting vote of May 9, 1983 accepting the Trust funds calls for them to be utilized by the Selectmen "...for the Purposes set out in the Decree of the Middlesex Probate Court...", which states that they should be used: "....for maintenance, repair, and upkeep of the Tavern and its grounds...". As of November 17, 2015 the value of the Trust fund was $ 340,000, and the anticipated income is $ 6,700 for the next year which is only 2%. In our financial forecast we assumed 3% income, based on the fact that the WFTA fund has returned an average of 3.6% over the last 15 years. Either way, the Total Project - the Library with a restaurant and the Tavern as a home for valued civic organizations - will be self supporting even with the lower 2% income.
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