Filling open space in Cannondale station not ‘highest of priorities’
Filling open space in the Cannondale Village Metro-North train station with a small-business tenant is not a top priority of the Connecticut Office of Rails, said Craig Bordiere, transportation supervising rail officer.
Though the office is not opposed to renting the space to a local entity — like a coffee shop or bakery — limited response to past requests for proposals (RFPs), and low passenger numbers at the Cannondale station make rail administrators tentative about releasing another RFP. The station has been empty since at least 2010, he said.
“If we receive a significant number of calls, that will prompt us to put [an RFP] out to the public,” Mr. Bordiere said in a telephone interview. “This is not going to be a reactionary thing based on limited solicitation by individuals. We really don’t see that as the highest of priorities; to put out RFPs and come out empty. There is limited ridership at Cannondale. It may be difficult for a company to be as successful as they envision to be.”
As of 2012, he said, the station had an average of only 167 daily weekday passengers.
The major problem with securing a tenant, Mr. Bordiere said, is finding a business that can fill the space and maintain a successful cost-benefit model. According to the rail officer, the department has received very little interest in the station.
“A lot of the problems came from a cost-benefit analysis in regard to building up the space to meet the vision of the vendor,” he said. “They’re also pretty much limited to early to late weekday morning hours. I cannot recall getting much recent inquiry for requests for occupancy. It has been pretty quiet in comparison to the past.”
Multiple owners of businesses in Cannondale Village proper, however, do not believe the department has received too little support to release a new RFP.
Isabelle Bell, owner of the Belle and Co. jewelry store, said in a June interview she has watched the train station parking lot fill up every morning over the past few months.
“If you look out at the parking lot,” she said, “you’ll see that it’s really beginning to fill up again. People are starting to come back and take the train from Cannondale.”
Independent of one another, Eve Raymond, owner of Penny Ha’ Penny, Wendy Manus, owner of Annabel Green, and Ms. Bell all said they each knew of at least five entities that had recently expressed interest in taking over the space.
All of the business owners in Cannondale Village expressed a strong desire for some sort of shop to move into the retail space. They believe a coffee shop, or other food-type establishment, could be successful even when the trains are not running at capacity, as long as they market themselves outside of the train station.
Additionally, Ms. Manus said the Office of Rails has given Cannondale business owners the “run-around” about filling the space. She said she has had a great deal of difficulty getting any informative response about the space from rail administrators, and was under the impression an independent management company leased the space.
According to Mr. Bordiere, the rail administration is responsible for leasing the space, but relies on a management company to open and close the public buildings, and maintain the restrooms. One perk of having a viable tenant, he said, is there is no longer a need to keep a site manager on staff.
“Subsequent to the last RFP failing, we’ve relied on the facility management company to open and close the building for the public,” he said. “We do look for a business willing to have the building available as a waiting room. It’s preferred, but not mandatory.”
For a long period of time, Mr. Bordiere said, the Office of Rails had a lease agreement with a local coffee shop in the space. This business was beneficial for both the rail administration and travelers at the station. The coffee shop owner opened, closed, and maintained the Cannondale station building, and provided riders with a quick bagel or coffee.
Around the time of the recession in 2008, the coffee shop was closed, Mr. Bordiere said. By 2010, the department released an RFP to try and fill the empty space.
“For many years the department did have a coffee shop and bakery tenant. It ultimately came down to the economic downturn for them to decide to no longer pursue renting the space. Subsequent to that, the department released an RFP, the standard policy and process in an attempt to bring in a new occupant.”
Though the office received an outpouring of inquiries over the space after the release of that RFP, only two proposals were formally submitted.
“We had received a significant number of inquiries from all points of business, not just local. We had actually only received two proposals after the release went out in 2010. We attempted to consummate an arrangement with the preferred proposal. That did not work out; then we went to a second entity and that did not work out either.”
RFPs are very expensive for the department to implement, Mr. Bordiere said, which requires rail officers to release them to the public only when there is considerable interest in a rental space. RFPs are a mandatory part of filling the space, Mr. Bordiere said, because it gives everyone a “fair chance to submit a proposal.”
The rail officer said, regardless of no current RFP being released, the office welcomes business proposals from outsides entities. He encouraged interested businesses to look at the 2010 RFP, and craft a basic proposal based on it. A new RFP, he added, would only have limited changes — mostly in the legal wording, not the content.
What the Office of Rails looks for in a proposal, he said, is long-term viability, and the rent a business would be willing to pay.
“Propose whatever you desire, but include in that the amount of rent you are willing to pay, and any or all justification or reasoning for wanting to be in the space,” he said. “If someone envisions investing an amount of money to retrofit the space, we might consider that as part of the proposal. If it is believed to be something that would be ultimately viable in the area, we’re open ended. Individuals have the opportunity to demonstrate that their proposal is comprehensive, well thought out, and has a long-term horizon. We’re not necessarily prepared or interested in having a short-term tenant.”
Anyone interested in gaining more information about submitting a business proposal for the Cannondale train station, may visit the Office of Rails website at ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=1386&q=316722.