The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 27, 2013

City View closes doors

CamTran cites concerns about financial stability

JOHNSTOWN — After eight years in business atop the city’s iconic Inclined Plane, City View Bar & Grill in Westmont will be closing its doors for good.

The Cambria County Transit Authority, lessor of the property, cited concerns over the establishment’s history of late rent payments, outstanding IRS liens, utility shutoffs and impending asset seizures. The board took a vote at its meeting Friday, unanimously deciding to evict current building operators Andy and Katie Lasky.

“This was not a pleasant action,” reads the statement from CamTran. “We as an authority have a fiduciary responsibility to the public and taxpayers and we were left with no other options but to take this action.”

Ed Cernic Jr., county controller and chairman of the CamTran board, said the authority worked “hand in hand” with City View since its grand opening, contributing around $10,000 a year in advertising dollars as well as substantially reducing rent within its first few years of operation, in an attempt to boost City View’s marketing leverage.

“Being in arrearage this much – with other outstanding obligations that were detailed to us – there was a discussion on the board and strong sentiment from a few board members that we’ve been doing this too long,” Cernic said at a press conference Tuesday at the CamTran offices in Moxham.

He said the authority is out by roughly $38,000 with the restaurant’s closing, including around $29,000 of deferred rent that has yet to be settled. He also said it has not received rent payments for the business’ past three months.

“Over the past 27 months, the rent payment has been made or was made at a later date than was scheduled for 18 of those 27 months,” Cernic said.

A press release distributed by Andy and Katie Lasky states they are behind by approximately $7,000 and that they recently attempted to refinance the remaining 18 months of their lease in an effort to reduce their debt.

“We don’t know what prompted such an overly severe reaction,” the release reads. “What we do know is 25 people have been put out of work, Johnstown and its many visitors will no longer be able to enjoy an eatery at the county’s number one attraction, which will negatively affect the Inclined Plane’s ability to continue running.”

Cernic acknowledged that having a restaurant in operation at the top of the Inclined Plane does good things for the landmark’s ridership. It’s for this reason the chairman said he hopes to have new tenants in place within the next 30 to 60 days.

As news spread early Tuesday afternoon of the restaurant’s closure, Cernic said the board has received “numerous inquiries” regarding the location.

“CamTran has a substantial financial commitment up there,” he said. “We’re not going to walk away from it. It’s a destination for people coming into town.”

Cernic approximated the authority’s investment in the restaurant and its environs to be around $1 million, which includes renovations following the previous tenancy, utility line shifting and parking additions along Edgehill Drive. At the last meeting between City View management and CamTran officials, Cernic said the board did not feel confident the establishment would turn around.

“It’s a culmination of things. Do we think that the management didn’t try hard to make it a success? Absolutely not,” he said. “We think they tried very hard and they were very diligent in what they were doing there.”

What the Laskys prided themselves on was building an atmosphere that welcomed all types – tourists, Johnstown regulars, the biker crowd and even the employees working there, several of whom have been with the restaurant since its early days.

After final paychecks were distributed Tuesday, Lasky said many stayed together for the remainder of the day, commiserating over a few drinks and bidding farewell to a beloved community entity that was theirs before it was anyone else’s.

“It turned into a funeral of sorts – kind of a wake,” Lasky said. “It was a really lovely thing.”

Cernic said the personal relationships that not only he, but also other board members have with the Laskys made this decision difficult.

“I know they put their full effort into this,” he said. “That’s what makes it so sad.”

 

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