PITTSTON TWP. -- With a $35 million terminal project nearly complete, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport board Thursday awarded the food and beverage concession to its longtime restaurant operator.
But airport director Barry Centini could not commit to having the restaurant ready for the terminal's grand opening in the spring.
"We're trying. It's something that we'd like to have open when we're open."
Centini told the airport board, made up of commissioners of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, the terminal should be completed in March. Ground was broken for the project in October 2003.
For months the board has been negotiating exclusively with Leo Vergnetti, the airport's restaurant and bar operator since 1979. At its monthly meeting the board signed a five-year lease with LPV Enterprises Inc. of Scranton, Vergnetti's company.
The company will not be responsible for all construction costs. The airport has asked the counties to contribute $1.2 million to build out the concession area for Vergnetti, who will be responsible for finishing the space.
How much LPV plans to spend to outfit the restaurant has not been determined. A message left for Vergnetti at the Zodiac Restaurant at the airport was not returned.
The new lease states that LPV must pay the greater amount of either a monthly rent or a percentage of the gross sales. The airport must be paid a minimum of $5,000 a month.
The original 10-year renewable lease signed on Dec. 31, 1979, had a similar payment structure and guaranteed the airport $850 a month.
In 1999, the board negotiated a supplement to the original lease that included a minimum monthly guarantee of $2,700. No members of the current board signed that supplemental agreement. The three-year lease has been extended annually by the board since 2002.
The supplement also notified Vergnetti of the airport's intent to build a new terminal and seek other bidders for the concession. "It is the specific intent of the (airport) to issue a new concessionaire request for proposal prior to December 31, 2002, covering operation of the new terminal restaurant, etc.," the lease said.
However, no other proposals were sought.
"I have not publicly done that," Centini said. When asked to explain why, he said, "The board decision was that we would look at Mr. Vergnetti, the local person." At least one other company expressed interest in setting up shop in the new terminal. Hudson Group of New Jersey provided Centini a proposal last year worth approximately $1.5 million, with the airport contributing some funds to the total cost of construction.
Joseph DiDomizio, executive vice president with Hudson, said Centini contacted the company after seeing its setup at the Harrisburg International Airport. Hudson operates at 54 airports nationwide.
DiDomizio could not confirm a statement made by Wy Gowell, the airport's former assistant director and business manager, that the company's proposal was provided to Vergnetti.
"I don't know that they shared my proposal," he said in December. He speculated that if it was done, the airport may have done so to get a better deal from Vergnetti.
At Thursday's meeting, board chairman and Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro congratulated Centini and his staff on the comprehensive 36-page lease with LPV.
Cordaro took over the chairmanship from Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid during a board reorganization at the start of the meeting. Vonderheid was named vice chairman to replace Cordaro.
In his closing remarks, Cordaro indicated he would like to see pay raises for some of the airport staff. He asked Centini by the next meeting to provide a draft budget with those increases.
"For the other board members who have not been aware, I think you know that our, particularly, senior staff is underpaid in terms of the industry and hoping that the new budget reflects some of that and gets us to another level ...," he said.
Read the restaurant leases with the airport. Go to www.timesleader.com.
A leading airport retailer proposed spending $1.5 million on the food, drink and gift concessions with some local help.
The long-range forecast for the year also shows expenses outweighing revenues for a net loss of $85,630.
Commissioners from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties said Thursday they have the money for the project, which has not been publicly discussed.
The Harrisburg Int'l Airport built a restaurant and bar area for a tenant to move into, similar to what the local airport board is considering.