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Feb 16, 2010 5:37 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Fairway future still up in the air

Feb 16, 2010 5:37 PM

The owner of the Fairway Restaurant in Sagaponack was not optimistic this week about his chances of remaining in the small cafe at the Poxabogue Golf Center he has run for nearly 20 years.

Dan Murray, the popular breakfast counter’s owner, said on Monday that he does not expect to have a contract for the space offered to him again by the town-owned golf course’s management company, Long Island Golf Management. Officials from Southampton Town, which owns the course, say they are, nonetheless, exploring every legal and negotiation option to devise a lease agreement that would be agreeable to both Mr. Murray and the management company’s owner, Ed Wankel.

“I afraid it’s not going to work out,” Mr. Murray said this week. “They say to me they want to keep it the way it is. I say, I’m good with that. But unless I hear different, right now I think he’s made up his mind and I have to close at the end of March.”

Whatever the outcome, a final conclusion is expected in the next few days.

“At this point, we’re looking at all our options,” said Richard Blowes, the management services administrator for Southampton Town. “We’re just trying to figure out how we can do it within our laws. A lease may not have to be rebid if you can determine the lease is fair and equitable. We’re looking at some legal angles to guarantee a longer agreement for [Mr. Murray]. Hopefully, we can work something out that would convince Ed Wankel to reconsider.”

Mr. Wankel could not be reached for comment.

The Poxabogue Golf Center was purchased for $6 million by Southampton and East Hampton towns in 2003 to save it from residential development. In 2007, Long Island Golf Management, which runs two other public golf courses on Long Island, was awarded a five-year management agreement that included giving Mr. Wankel control over the restaurant lease, with the caveat that the company had to give Mr. Murray the right of first refusal on the restaurant space before it could seek other potential tenants.

Mr. Murray rejected a lease agreement offered to him by Mr. Wankel’s company in the fall, saying that demands for operating fees, hours of operation and investment in structural improvements were too high. Mr. Wankel subsequently reached an agreement with the owner of the Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, which applied for a liquor license at the Poxabogue restaurant, to take over the Fairway space. Sagaponack Village lawmakers have said that selling liquor at the property would violate its zoning designation without express clearances from them.

Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said last week that the contract with the town has created some legal hoops for officials to jump through.

“I am doing the best I can to work with Dan Murray and resolve whatever dispute there is between them, knowing that there is an underlying contract here to allow the management company to select a concessionaire,” Mr. Nuzzi said. He added that East Hampton Town officials, who have not played an active role in the negotiations, have made it clear that they would prefer to see the cafe remain under its current management.

One of the main sticking points appears to be the length of a lease that Mr. Murray was initially offered, which he claimed would not be enough time to recoup investments that were also required for structural improvements. Mr. Blowes said one of the things the town is working on is finding a way to extend the guarantee of Mr. Murray’s lease with Mr. Wankel beyond the three remaining guaranteed years on the Long Island Golf Management contract.

Turning over control of the restaurant contract, which had always been independent of the driving range and golf course management, to Mr. Wankel was a business decision by the town, Mr. Blowes said. By giving away the management control of the restaurant, the town lightened its lease negotiation load and guaranteed that it would receive its full rental fee, regardless of whether the restaurant struggled or not.

Mr. Murray said he’s never missed a rent payment in 19 years.

“I liked the old arrangement. Everyone did,” Mr. Murray said. “Under this new deal, it becomes not running our restaurant anymore, it becomes working for [Mr. Wankel].”

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has anyone else noticed that Mr Wankel is never available for comment, nor is he ever at Poxabogue...even though he is being PAID to be there??? BY US, the taxpayers? Clearly, all locals want to keep the status quo at the restaurant ..why can't Richard Blowes see the forest through the trees? The petitions signed by loyal supporters of Dan's send a strong message to Town Hall...Wankel has a miserable reputation; try to find anyone to say otherwise.
By EQme (112), East Quogue on Feb 22, 10 9:57 PM
perhaps all of the facts should be accurately stated. This and other articles are inaccurate. Perhaps those commenters and even the writer should obtain factual information. Perhaps instead of commenting based on what you read, you should spend some time gathering actual information about the parties and factual information about the "status quo" and what that would really mean. Do the work, This article has falsities, inaccuracies and does not reflect the entire scenario. The actual facts will ...more
By perspective (1), southampton on Feb 24, 10 7:16 PM