The embattled owner of two restaurants and a banquet center at The Docks in East Toledo abruptly closed the businesses late Thursday night, leaving the city on the hook for up to $1.6 million in debt payments, Mayor Mike Bell said.
Tom Cousino informed city officials in the afternoon that he was shuttering the Navy Bistro, its adjoining Courtyard banquet facility, and Tango's restaurant because of poor business.
The restaurateur's company, Front Street Ventures, had entered into a payment plan with the city in 2009 in hopes that business would turn around.
Business picked up, but apparently not enough, Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Cousino currently owes $99,000 in rent to the city, which owns the seven-acre complex on the east bank of the Maumee River across from downtown, the mayor said. Mr. Cousino was supposed to pay $13,000 a month in rent for the three facilities.
“This is a sad day because of all the time and energy the Cousinos put into [The Docks],” Mayor Bell said at a news conference Thursday night. “It's going to leave a big hole down there, and hopefully somebody is going to be able to pick up the slack.”
Mr. Cousino has faced a slew of recent money problems.
In April, he was charged with failing to remit tens of thousands of dollars in Ohio sales taxes from a different restaurant. In September, he was accepted into a pretrial diversion program, which allows him three years to pay the taxes he owes in exchange for avoiding further criminal prosecution. At the time, Mr. Cousino owed more than $67,800 to the state.
Mr. Cousino could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Two restaurants and a nightclub remain open at The Docks: Zia's, Real Seafood, and Metropolis. The mayor said those businesses are current on their rent and he urged diners to continue patronizing them.
“What people have to realize about The Docks itself is it's almost like individual condominiums, and although one business closes, the other ones still maintain and do very well,” he said.
Navy Bistro opened in 1996 as the first business in the riverfront complex, which was converted from a city garage for heavy equipment. That project involved $500,000 of taxpayer funds.
The restaurant quickly became one of Toledo's most popular mid to upscale restaurants and was credited with helping to reinvigorate the near-downtown area.
It was originally called Old Navy Bistro, but the “Old” was lopped off after complaints from the clothing retailer Old Navy.
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To date the city still owes about $1.66 million in bonds for The Docks project, to be repaid through lease revenue, city officials said.
Mr. Bell said he is hopeful that new tenants will fill the newly vacant space, but he did not offer specifics. He said he will continue marketing the complex to potential investors.
“I don't think that the down time for that venue will be very long,” he said.
Navy Bistro was open for dinner Thursday and many patrons seemed unaware that the night would be the restaurant's last. There appeared to be about a dozen parties seated in the dining room at 6:30 p.m. Four men sipped drinks at the bar.
“There's not a lot of nice restaurants in Toledo, and it's bad to see one go,” said Perrysburg resident Adam Hall, 29, who recalled taking his future wife, Miranda, to the bistro for their first “fancy date” a decade ago.
Mr. Cousino's banquet facility had already canceled wedding receptions and other events booked for this year.
A manager at Navy Bistro confirmed Thursday that the eatery had decided about a week ago to notify customers who had booked its banquet facility that it would not be available in 2011. The decision affected about 14 weddings, the first of which wasn't to occur until May.
“Our banquet coordinator is working with them to try and coordinate other venues,” said the manager, who did not want to be identified. All deposits have been fully refunded, she said.
The banquet facility could accommodate 150 or more guests comfortably for weddings, said April Gladieux, a Perrysburg wedding planner who operates Your Perfect Day LLC. She said she coordinated a wedding reception at the venue just last month.
“It was a great venue, a great location. I had two weddings there last year, and it was just gorgeous. It was a great place to take pictures,” Ms. Gladieux said
The decision left some scrambling for new locations to host their weddings.
“The problem that we keep running into is that most places are already booked. It's not the end of the world, but I had already printed my save-the-dates and my rehearsal dinner reservations,” said Lisa Ramirez, 26, who had planned to use the banquet facility for her October wedding to Brian Kemper, 29.
“I found out Tuesday morning, and I spent all day crying,” said Ms. Ramirez, a Toledo native who now lives in Chicago. “Being out of town, it adds stress, and it's not something that I wanted to deal with. It breaks my heart that we have to move it, but luckily, I have some time.”
Toledo City Councilman Mike Craig, whose district includes The Docks, said he considers the closures “an unfortunate and unintended consequence” of having moved the location of the city's sports arena from East Toledo to downtown.
“Without Tom Cousino there would never have been any Docks, and it's really sad to see that that's no longer going to be in business,” Mr. Craig said.
Staff writer Larry Vellequette contributed to this report.
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