A ‘rent-free winter’ is set to be offered to restaurant bidders in an effort to secure a long-term lease for Bexhill’s Colonnade.
At a meeting on Monday (October 1), Rother District Council’s cabinet authorised officers to offer several months of rent-free tenancy as part of negotiations with restaurant businesses looking to take over the seafront property.
According to the council, this rent-free period – to last until April 1 2019 – would be offered as an incentive as part of a long-term lease agreement of no fewer than ten years.
The Colonnade is currently home to a council-run cafe, which opened in July following a controversial refurbishment of the building.
The council says three companies wanting to take on the business have approached the council with unsolicited bids since then.
During the meeting, council leader Carl Maynard (Con. – Brede) urged cabinet members ‘not to underestimate the importance of the Colonnade’ and criticised those who had opposed the refurbishment.
He said: “I do think that the Colonnade needs to be given a chance.
“When one reads all the negative comments on social media, it is very much like when we were judged back in 2015 when the seafront was still a building site.
“I do urge people to just get behind the project and see that now this council has fitted out – then things have come to pass exactly as the council predicted. Because it has been fitted out we now have significant interest from private investors.
“We always said that we as an authority didn’t want to be running that business for the long-term.
“We haven’t even had to wait a year ladies and gentlemen before we have gotten significant interest from the private sector.”
Later in the meeting Susan Prochak (Lib Dem. – Salehurst) – a critic of the original plans – asked Cllr Maynard what sort of tenant the council was hoping to attract.
She said: “As you know I’ve been one of those who has been critical of this project in terms of the spend on it and the delivery of it. You spoke about being aspirational and I wondered if members also needed to give members a steer on the type of restaurant offer that is going to be there.
“When you started out you said you wanted a high-end [restaurant] open in the evenings. Are you going to leave that for officers to decide or is there going to be a steer from the cabinet as to what the offer is going to be down there?”
In reply Cllr Maynard said: “The short answer is no and I suspect we would be here all day if we were asking whether or not cabinet members prefer a Mexican to an Indian or what sort of theme it should have. I think that is detail for officers to attempt to work through.
“Rest assured we have three very interested private [businesses] who want to come in and want to run that particular restaurant.”
During the meeting councillors urged officers to ensure the restaurant remained open for as long as possible during the winter season.
Councillors also spoke about the issue of gas supply to the building, which has yet to be connected. According to council reports, the lack of gas supply – which is out of council control – had been ‘the single greatest constraint’ to finding a tenant.
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