Boston’s top planning official issued a list of demands to the operator of Faneuil Hall Marketplace on Wednesday, insisting the firm allow struggling small businesses more time to catch up on rent and help provide outdoor seating for diners as shops reopen from pandemic-related closures.
Brian P. Golden, director of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, which owns Faneuil Hall, asked Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation of New York in a letter to allow tenants until the end of next year to get up to date on rent rather than demanding they become current by the end of 2020.
Golden also called for the real estate firm to assist with the installation of outdoor seating and implementation of new cleaning protocols, and to meet and discuss the challenges of reopening with the “long-term family-owned small businesses that have long been the lifeblood of” the marketplace.
If Ashkenazy doesn’t commit to the requested changes, Golden added, he expects the firm to come to the table to discuss relinquishing control of Faneuil Hall to the agency or another private operator.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for small businesses across our city, and around the world, especially those that rely heavily on the tourism industry,” Golden said in the letter.
“While so many organizations, businesses, and individuals have responded to these pressures in a spirit of collaboration and shared public responsibility, we fear that this has not been the case at” Faneuil Hall Marketplace, he added.
“We are surprised and disappointed by the BPDA letter,” Joe Press, executive vice president of Ashkenazy Acquisitions, said in an e-mail statement Thursday. “It does not accurately reflect what has happened at the property or the ongoing discussions we have had with the BPDA. We had already notified Faneuil Hall Marketplace tenants yesterday that April, May and June rents would be deferred through the end of 2021. This was communicated to the BPDA leadership last Friday on a phone call. We are working to resolve this matter as soon as possible.”
The real estate firm’s portfolio of properties includes South Station and the Fairmount Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, as well as many other landmarks, including Union Station in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, it appeared the firm may be willing to give tenants more time to pay rent.
Joseph M. O’Malley, the marketplace’s general manager, sent an e-mail to tenants notifying them that Ashkenazy would allow them to defer June rent, as well as rent for April and May, which were previously agreed upon.
Tenants must pay the three months’ rent in 12 installments next year, with Ashkenazy adding equal portions to each month’s rent statement, he said in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe.
“The Landlord has found it to be a fair and equitable decision to extend the deferral through next year,” O’Malley wrote.
The Faneuil Hall Merchants Association said in a statement that it is “very concerned about the livelihood and survival of our merchants, many of whom are small businesses.”
It was not clear if the association had received a copy of O’Malley’s e-mail.
“It is unrealistic to expect the merchants to pay full rent when the marketplace has been closed since mid-March. . . . We all want to re-open our businesses and need AAC to assist us in ensuring that the necessary protocols are in place to provide a safe re-opening for our merchants, customers and visitors,” the association said.
One tenant said she feared losing her family’s businesses.
“This isn’t just about my business — this is about everybody’s survival,” said Lindsay Lamattina, co-owner with her brother of Boston Chowda Co., Wicked Lobsta and the Doghouse in the Quincy Market food hall.
“We are like a family in Faneuil Hall,” said Lamattina, whose father founded Boston Chowda in 1986. “All of us have been there for so long. . . . We’ve never missed a rent payment since 1986.”
The coronavirus hurt business even before Gov. Baker closed the state’s non-essential businesses in March, she said.
Cancellations of international flights and bus tours contributed led to a decline in foot traffic in February, she said.
Stores and restaurants there have now lost almost half their busy season, which usually runs from April to October, she said, and their planned July 1 reopening comes with no guarantees that people will return.
“Opening our doors with no festivals, no concerts, no games, no duck tours, no cruise ships, and not many flights coming in from Logan — it’s going to be detrimental to our business,” she said.
In his letter, Golden also called on Ashkenazy to commit to filling future vacancies at Faneuil Hall “in a way that advances equity, inclusion, and the prioritization of locally owned minority and women owned businesses that reflect the diversity of Boston.”
Golden said that if Ashkenazy “is unwilling or unable to make these commitments,” he wants to meet with the firm “to discuss returning the property to public ownership or facilitate a transfer of the property to a private owner capable of making the investments necessary at the property.”
Golden described his “disappointment and frustration” with Ashkenazy after he recently learned the company was demanding tenants pay up by year’s end.
Ashkenazy initially said in a letter to tenants pleading for more time to pay rent, “We want you to know that we are not in a position to relieve you from your lease obligations.” But the company later deferred rent for April and May at the request of Golden and Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Golden said that isn’t good enough.
“Given the lack of sales generated at the property, we are concerned it will be difficult for tenants to remain current for future months’ rent and also generate the savings necessary to repay back rent in the near term,” he said.