Late rent was factor in cafe lease cancellation, MetroParks claims


Official says failure to pay rent led to termination of lease

By Jordyn Grzelewski

jgrzelewski@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Records obtained from Mill Creek MetroParks provide some additional insight into a dispute between the MetroParks and former Garden Cafe operator Friends and Family Ltd.

Friends owners Patricia Tinkler and Peter Mitchell Lynch allege in an Oct. 31 letter, via Atty. Anthony J. Farris, to the MetroParks board of commissioners and MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young that Young recommended termination of their lease agreement for reasons that are “personal, retaliatory and unrelated to park business.”

Young, though, says Friends’ failure to pay rent was a factor in the decision.

In an Aug. 16 letter to Tinkler and Lynch to notify them of the contract termination, which was approved at an Aug. 15 MetroParks board meeting, Young stated only that the termination was due to Friends’ “failure to abide by the terms and conditions of the lease.”

While MetroParks officials were tight-lipped about the specifics, citing possible legal issues, Young told The Vindicator that issues with rent payments did play a role in the decision.

Rent payments were the subject of another written notice to Tinkler and Lynch sent two weeks after the lease agreement was terminated. In that Aug. 29 letter, Young informed them that they owed rent and the MetroParks’ share of cafe sales proceeds for the months of May, June, July and part of August.

Farris raised questions about the timing of that letter.

“After they [park officials] illegally terminated them, they [Tinkler and Lynch] got a letter a week or two later,” he said. “They’re creating a supposed decision to justify themselves.”

A letter dated Sept. 16 from the MetroParks’ legal counsel again brought up the issue of rent, stating that Friends owed the MetroParks $2,378.37 for May and $2,503.58 for June, plus undetermined amounts for July and August.

“The records kept by Mill Creek indicate that you failed to pay the May and June 2016 rent obligation due and owing to Mill Creek and in fact stopped payment on the rent checks in August 2016. You also failed to pay any rent for July and August 2016, nor did you report any of your sales, as is required pursuant to the terms of the lease agreement,” wrote Elizabeth Farbman of the Roth, Blair, Roberts, Strasfeld and Lodge law firm. “Kindly remit payments for the months of May and June 2016 as set forth above, plus the base rent due and owing for the months of July and August 2016 within 15 days of the date of this letter.”

The MetroParks reportedly had not received those payments as of this week.

Per the lease agreement, if the cafe operator “should fail to make rent payments when due, the lessor [the MetroParks] after 10 days written notice to the lessee may recover possession of the facility and terminate the lease without reference to the time the lease would otherwise expire.”

Tinkler and Lynch do not dispute that they were late in paying their May and June rent payments, but Tinkler said payments for those months had been submitted to the MetroParks prior to the lease termination. She later cancelled the checks, she said.

The Aug. 29 letter from Young was the first Tinkler and Lynch heard about the rent issue, Tinkler said.

“They were basically working with me because we’d had such a disastrous first six months of the year,” she said. “There was never pressure from anybody at the facility, nor the administration, to be current on the rent.”

Rather than the rent issue, Tinkler and Lynch allege that the lease was terminated for “personal” reasons, such as Lynch “liking” a Facebook post that was critical of Young, Tinkler telling someone that the controversy over MetroParks staff cuts had hurt their business, and for Lynch telling a MetroParks intern rumors about an affair.

Lynch’s interactions with that intern were the subject of a lengthy back-and-forth between park staff members, according to email records, and resulted in Lynch being questioned by MetroParks police. He was not charged with a crime.

Tinkler and Lynch also claim that the park interfered in “negotiations which were ongoing to transfer the operator’s rights under the lease agreement to a third party.” Tinkler said they were in negotiations with Kravitz Deli.

The MetroParks later entered into a new lease agreement with Kravitz. That agreement spells out the rent requirements in greater detail than the previous contract. For example, it specifies that rent is due in advance, the first of the month, that the park’s 6 percent commission on cafe revenue is due the fifth of the month, and that a 5 percent late fee will be charged if the tenant fails to pay rent within five days of when its due.

Farris and his clients claim that the MetroParks board’s cancellation of the lease agreement amounts to a breach of contract.

Farris stated in the Oct. 31 letter that “violation of clients’ federal constitutional rights by a government entity entitles them to significant damages and will likely result in litigation in federal court.”

In lieu of a federal lawsuit, according to the letter, Tinkler and Lynch would settle for $150,000 from the MetroParks.

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