Some 20 boaters who rent slips at Erie Basin Marina worry that a new operator will not be in place in time for next year’s boating season.
“You guys are really far behind on this,” boater and waterfront resident Bill Jones told Common Council members at a recent meeting. “This is going to hurt the good image the marina has.”
The marina, one of the city’s most popular waterfront destinations, recently made headlines following a damaging audit by the city comptroller. The city terminated its contract with Brand-On Services, which operated the marina, a store and Hatch restaurant since 2001, after the audit found the company owes the city $343,245.
The company, and even some Council members, dispute the amount.
Public Works employees changed the locks, and the city solicited bids for new operators, one for the marina and one for the restaurant. The bids are due Jan. 3. The season begins May 1.
Those who pay to keep their boats at the marina are less concerned about any money owed to the city treasury than the possibility that new management won’t be in place in time. They said the city’s requests for proposals do not address the complexities of marina operations.
“This isn’t monthly parking,” Jones said. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”
The boaters also are concerned about the status of the floating dock, which was purchased and installed by Brand-On for 65 of the largest boats.
Arbitration between the city and Brand-On remains in the very early stages. If the dispute is not resolved, control of the docks may be undecided at the start of the season, the boaters said.
Several boaters spoke during a Council Finance Committee meeting last week. While some called the marina’s operations merely adequate and in need of improvement, others praised the Wolasz family, which owns and operates Brand-On, as hard-working and attentive.
“I wish you guys could work this out,” boater Gloria Fisher said.
Council members suggested delaying the process of finding a new vendor so more boaters could have input into the process, even if that means allowing Brand-On to run the marina for another year. But City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder’s office quickly objected.
City officials said the marina will be running in time for the 2014 boating season, with a new operator.
“We are aware of all of the issues and fully anticipate the marina will open on time, and the city is prepared to take all necessary steps to ensure that,” Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said in a statement.
The floating docks could be purchased by the city, said Patrick Curry, the comptroller’s executive assistant.
“The docks will remain at the marina and will be property of the city of Buffalo,” Curry said.
Schroeder has been aggressive in pursuing the funds he believes the city is owed from Brand-On, sending the company an invoice.
The matter is in the beginning stages of arbitration. An audit of 2013 operations has yet to be completed.
Schroeder’s office projects the amount the company owes the city will approach $500,000.
The Council has urged the company, including principal Michael Wolasz, and the city to come to a compromise on the amount owed.
“I don’t think he owes as much as the comptroller has stated,” Council President Richard A. Fontana said.
The company maintains it had agreements with the city to perform certain tasks for the city and to lower the amount the company paid the city per gallon of gas it sold, which lowered the rent it paid.
The lease agreement, however, can only be amended by an act of the Council – not by any side agreements with others in City Hall, Schroeder has said.
A lawyer for Brand-On Services did not return a message seeking comment.