Inconsistent stories from the College and previous Shack owners surface in the wake of the College’s announcement of purchase
On Nov. 29, The Shack officially ceased operations and the current tenants, Mark and Candy Watts, removed all property from the premises. The building, which was constructed in 1910 and housed The Shack starting in 1915, will transfer from the Syrios family to the College once the sale closes.
John Hopkins, Associate Vice President of College Relations & Marketing, sent out an email to all Wooster students on Nov. 3 describing The Shack’s closure and the school’s plans for going forward.
In the email, Hopkins wrote, “Because the College has no immediate use in mind for the building, we offered the tenants a new lease to continue operating The Shack, which they have declined.”
While Hopkins holds that this statement is true, the Wattses argue that the College’s claim is incorrect.
The Wattses say that they have neither signed a lease nor declined one because they have yet to be given the appropriate paperwork.
“They never produced a lease for us to sign,” said Candy. “We told our attorney to have them produce a lease and let us see it. They never produced it… [The College] went from their attorney to our attorney and sent us an outline of the provisions that they were going to require in order to offer us a lease and it was only going to be a month-to-month lease for six months. There was no long-term lease.”
Hopkins refutes this claim saying, “A physical lease was given to the Wattses’ lawyers, and it was their lawyers’ request that it was a month-to-month lease, not to exceed six months. The College had been willing to offer a longer-term lease, and first communicated that willingness to the Wattses’ lawyers almost a year ago. The College remained willing to do so, but my understanding is that the Wattses’ lawyers indicated that their clients were only interested in a month-to-month lease to provide more time to move out or possibly relocate the restaurant.”
The Wattses do not believe that their attorneys would have indicated that they were interested in a six month lease. “We never told our attorney that [we were only interested in six months,]” said Candy. “We told our attorney to see what they could negotiate with the College and this is the only thing that the College would offer.”
One of the provisions that the Wattses would have had to abide by in the lease is a required signature on a document stating that they “have received no notices of any code violation, and have no knowledge of any such violations.”
“It would have been illegal for us to sign that document,” said Candy. “The building does have code violations.”
“As old as that building is, anybody would know that there are probably violations within the building,” added Mark.
Hopkins said that the school is not aware of any code violations in the building and that a provision like this is “a standard inclusion in commercial leases.”
A second provision of the lease is “a mutual prohibition against the parties making disparaging remarks about each other.” In layman’s terms, neither the college nor the Shack are allowed to speak negatively of one another.
The Wattses say that they had been planning for a very long time to buy the building from the Syrios family whenever they were ready to sell it. According to Candy, the Wattses had a verbal agreement with the late Anna and Gus Syrios that they would have priority in the building’s sale.
“We were originally supposed to buy the building from the owner,” said Candy. “The college outbid us by twice as much. It didn’t matter how much we bid, the College would still outbid us.”
Hopkins said that the school is not aware of any verbal agreement made between the Syrios family and the Wattses.
Moving forward, there are no firm plans in place for the building, which also features two apartments in addition to the restaurant space. The College has emphasized that they do not intend to demolish the building. Earlier this year when the College first began to look into purchasing the building, those apartments were viewed as potential housing for visiting faculty or as additional student housing.
“We will seek to put it to good use as soon as possible,” said President Grant Cornwell.
While the process hasn’t been decided upon, the College is open to figuring out a way for students to provide feedback. At a recent dinner at the President’s house, The Shack was discussed, with student suggestions ranging from a second Mom’s to a student run space for music performances.
“The College is eager to begin the planning process regarding the Shack,” said Dean of Students Kurt Holmes.
“We have been looking at options both for the long run and the short. With any luck we can conduct some focus groups with students to brainstorm uses for the space at the same time we take it for a test drive. If possible we would like to see some ‘trial balloon’ programming during Spring Semester.”