by Geoff Fox
Since Ben Lewis and Matt Goundry bought the shuttered Park N Dine restaurant earlier this year, people have been wondering what will become of the Hancock landmark.
After the September town meeting, Goundry told town officials he’d like to rent the restaurant building to the Town of Hancock and turn it into a new Town Hall and welcome center. Lewis attended the meeting, but stayed in the audience while Goundry made his presentation.
He proposed to renovate and lease the former restaurant as a town municipal center and welcome center in Hancock.
Goundry said the mindset he and Lewis had was that the location would make a lot of sense.
“We feel it’s an opportunity for all,” Goundry said. “So we’d like to talk to the council and ask how you guys feel about it and what it looks like.”
Mayor Tim Smith agreed, saying he also looks at it as an opportunity not only for the owners but also the town.
“It definitely sets the tone that you guys are willing to be part of the community and do whatever it takes to make things happen,” Smith said about Goundry and Lewis bringing the idea to them.
Smith added he needed a little more information on the monthly and yearly costs of operating the current Town Hall building on High Street so he could compare the two buildings.
There had been discussions and talks about whether the town would want a municipal building in town as opposed to off Main Street.
“I think that’s something we have to look at as well,” Smith said.
Smith also said he’d need the numbers to see if a deal would be feasible.
Goundry didn’t have those numbers available at the meeting but would be able to get them to town officials at a later date.
Goundry said he didn’t want to make the proposal unattainable, but wanted to make it workable for both parties involved.
As the building sits, Goundry said it doesn’t necessarily have to be another restaurant, but it has been a focus of the town for over 75 years.
The square footage is in line with what the town would need to operate.
Goundry said the proximity and location of the building to everything are the pluses.
“It makes a welcome center that, in my opinion, would be bar none,” Goundry said.
Councilman Roland Lanehart, Jr. pointed toward grant money as a possible source of funding for renovations.
Lanehart said it would be easier for the town to get grants for any renovations for the current building the town uses.
The building at 126 West Main Street was formerly Hancock Elementary and is an historic building. The town also owns the building.
Goundry went back to the location aspect of the Park n Dine building.
Councilman Josh McCusker raised the question of taking care of those groups who use the town hall building for gatherings and performances.
The main room, which is where meetings are held, has an elevated stage where the Hancock Arts Council has staged plays and concerts.
Christmas For Others also uses the room for their distribution of food, clothing, and toys for those who signed up for the program
If the town were to keep the building after moving municipal offices, McCusker added they’d still have to heat the building.
The Girl Scouts and Senior Center also use the building, Lanehart pointed out.
“We can’t throw them out,” Lanehart said. “There’s a lot that goes in here.”
Goundry said there are a lot of opportunities of growth at the other location and he sees it daily.
Goundry and Lewis own Potomac River Grill above Hancock on the U.S. 522 Bridge. They also own Maryland Pipe.
“We’re invested in this town. So we see the same opportunities as everybody else does,” Goundry said.
He added it takes a community to build a town and if it doesn’t do so, it won’t grow and flourish.
With a growth pattern for the town, Goundry said officials would have to look five to 10 years down the road and wonder what that would end up looking like.
He agreed owning a building is easy, but keeping them maintained and fixed up isn’t easy and takes work. Goundry noted a discussion held during a public hearing prior to the town meeting regarding the Urban Renewal and Abandoned Building Ordinance.
Smith had to question what the overall cost would be if the town were to enter a 25 to 30-year lease versus entering into a purchase or lease to own contract.
That would tell the town what kind of funding would come from the state for a complete rehab of a brandnew facility.
Eventually, the mayor added, the town would have to look at the type of lease should they agree to move the municipal building to the Park n Dine building, be it a lease option or a lease to purchase.
Goundry said he’d prefer it be a long-term lease set in place, but he wouldn’t say no to a sale.
“I won’t say no to either one, but I certainly would like to go down the road of a long-term lease put together on the building,” Goundry said. “That would be my goal.” The building, he said, could be rented to the Town of Hancock which would then be able to decide if they would want to sublease to another individual.
Goundry said he wanted to keep it as clean as possible.
“We’re throwing ideas to try to see if there’s any continuity towards it,” he said.
Councilman David Kerns said he thinks the idea is good, it’s just trying to make the numbers work. A lot of work needs to be done in the current Town Hall, he said.
“It would all be dependent on whether we could afford working on two buildings,” he said.
Lanehart said the town’s biggest priority is the water and sewer lines throughout the town.
Goundry said he understands the town’s infrastructure is important.
Goundry told town officials his strongest hand in the deal is the location at 189 East Main Street.
If the deal doesn’t suit the town, Goundry said he has other options he could explore.
Goundry said he would try to make something that would fit for the town should they want to make the deal.
“I’m not going to force a foot in a size 12 shoe and it’s a 14 foot,” he said. “It won’t work. I get that.”
He added this proposal was to kick start the idea and how it benefits the town with the new developments on the horizon.
Town officials didn’t make a decision on the deal at the meeting but Smith said he and Town Manager Mike Faith would meet with Goundry, get numbers, and hold workshops to see if it would work.
“We have to start somewhere,” he said.