No takers on lakehouse eatery plan

Albany gets no bids on renovating Washington Park landmark into waterfront restaurant

BRIAN NEARING Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ALBANY - It's back to the drawing board for a multimillion-dollar plan to remake the Washington Park Lakehouse into a full-service restaurant and banquet hall.


When the city asked for offers from area restaurateurs to make it happen, none were on the table by the June 16 deadline. "I was surprised and disappointed," said city General Services Commissioner Bill Bruce. "We are going to have to regroup and see where we go from here." He guessed the plan to convert the 1929 lakehouse, located at the park's southern edge near Madison and New Scotland avenues, was "too daunting" for local restaurant operators. "Maybe they didn't really understand the opportunity that was here." In January 2005, a committee appointed by Mayor Jerry Jennings released a report calling for up to $6.5 million in renovations to the Spanish Revival architectural gem, which would include enclosed waterfront dining for up to 125 people, a 200-seat banquet hall, new kitchen space, a front terrace, an expanded dock, and boat, skate and cross-country ski rentals.


Sandra Baptie, president of the Washington Park Conservancy, who served on Jennings' committee, said perhaps the city should reach out to regional or national restaurant developers more used to big-ticket projects.


"There was a limited list of restaurants that was used," she said. "We need someone who can come in with more of a business plan."


Baptie agreed that local operations likely were put off by the expense. "People are worried about the same things that we were worried about - where people would park and how expensive it would be," she said.


Another solution might be to scale back the lakehouse proposal to allow a more simple menu, like that served in museum shops, she said. "That doesn't require cooking, so you are not talking about things like stoves and grease traps."


Common Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti, whose Sixth Ward district includes the park, said he wasn't sure how many restaurants got the city's call for offers. "I think we have to review the request for proposals and see if there are any conditions that were not attainable."


This winter, the Park Playhouse decided to stay at the 900-seat amphitheater outside the lakehouse for at least another season. The local theater company has presented free plays at the lake house for 17 summers, drawing 60,000 people a year.


Roger Martel, one of five restaurant owners were involved in planning with the mayor's committee, said the lakehouse was "a viable spot for a restaurant and banquet room."


However, because it is "not a restaurant now ... it would cost someone a lot of money to go in there," said Martel, who operates the restaurant at the city's Capital Hills golf course.


Other restaurateurs the advised the city included Don Wade, operator of the Cider House restaurant at the Orchard Creek Golf Course in Altamont; Donna and Yono Purnomo, who ran Yono's, an Indonesian restaurant; Daniel Smith, chef at Nicole's Bistro in Quackenbush Square; and Brian Palazzolo of Classe Catering, which provides food services at the Crossings of Colonie.








Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at bnearing@timesunion.com.