LACONIA — Responding to the City Council’s concerns, owners of a floating bar and restaurant have made a counteroffer for operating the seasonal business at the city-owned Weirs Public Docks.
The latest proposal by Jamie Merriam and Betsy Sullivan, owners of the Dive, shortens the term of the proposed lease, addresses some concerns about liability insurance, and offers a plan which includes how the Public Docks could be modified to provide more docking space and easier boat access.
In a memorandum prepared by their attorneys, Merriam and Sullivan offer to agree to an initial lease of three years, instead of 10 years previously proposed. The proposal would allow the Dive to use the dock rent-free for the initial period, but the owners would pay property tax for the part of the dock where the Dive would tie up. The offer also includes the option to extend the lease twice — each for a period of five years. During the first extension they would pay rent based on market rates. If the lease were extended for another five years the rent would be based on comparable rentals adjusted for inflation.
In what the memo terms a “show of good faith” Merriam and Sullivan have withdrawn a lawsuit in which they argued that the city had no authority to regulate the Dive since the business was operated on state-owned waters and hence was beyond the jurisdiction of the city.
The proposal includes a design for expanding the Public Docks to accommodate 56 boats, compared to the current capacity of 24 boats. In addition to the greater capacity the piers would be spaced further apart so boats would have more room to maneuver.
The proposal includes a commitment by the Dive to conduct annual fundraisers for the dock renovations “to help minimize costs to the city”
The council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to use the proposal as the basis for a lease agreement which will be drawn up by the city’s attorney.
City Manager Scott Myers said Tuesday once the proposed document has come back from the lawyers he would review it before presenting it to the council for a decision. He said if there were no complications the council might be able to take action as early as its next meeting on May 11.
The proposal was worked out during a teleconference call between Myers, Mayor Andrew Hosmer and the Dive’s attorneys on April 17.
At Monday’s council meeting Hosmer said his goal was to “try and find a balance between the city and the owners of the Dive.”
On the one hand, Hosmer said that it was important to protect the municipal docks as a public asset, while at the same time “encouraging entrepreneurs to come to our city to do business.”
Councilor Bruce Cheney, who two weeks ago voiced objections to the 10-year lease initially proposed by the Dive, said he was comfortable with the new proposal, but he said the agreement would need to be more definitive. For example he said the Dive would have to agree to make the Dive’s pier fully handicapped accessible and not just “endeavor to ensure compliance” with ADA regulations and guidelines as the proposal now states.
Councilor Bob Hamel said any agreement should include language that the Dive will be responsible for repairing any damage to the public beach adjacent the docks that might be caused by turbulence created by the Dive’s engines as it maneuvers up to or away from the pier.
Merriman and Sullivan started the Dive in 2018. That first year the establishment operated out of West Alton Marina.
Last summer the Dive operated from the north side of the privately owned Winnipesaukee Pier. At that time some owners of nearby lakefront property complained about noise from the establishment, but the owners have countered that the complaints were unjustified and the Dive was never found to have violated the city’s noise ordinance or other ordinances.