The New Year's Eve party at City Centre to celebrate Batavia's centennial has given rise to a new point of contention between the city and the Mall Merchants Association.
While there is a long simmering dispute over who is responsible for a troubled roof and other repairs to the structure, and with a city-filed lawsuit pending over alleged unpaid rents, Mall Director Madeline Bialkwoski says you can now add "trespass" the the association's list of complaints.
Prior to Wednesday's event, Bialkowski sent a letter to City Manager Jason Molino that said as far as the association was concerned, using a portion of the mall concourse for a dance floor and photo studio was never authorized by the association.
"Therefore, we are once again letting you know that you do not have permission to use our insured and leased concoure space for your New Year's Eve Celebration and respectfully request that the City gate remains closed and locked," Bialkowski wrote to Molino.
Reached at his office this afternoon, Molino said, "We own the mall."
Asked if that isn't a bit like a landlord saying "I'm going to use your house for a party," Molino said there's a difference between a residential property and a commercial property. The city owns the space and therefore doesn't need the permission of the merchants to use it.
Bialkowkski said the association's big concern is over its insurance. She said the association's policy, like most mall policies the past few years, forbids the consumption of alcohol in the concourse.
"It voids our insurance," she said. She's concerned, she said, that now that the party has taken place, what the ramifications might be for the association's policy.
Molino said the city had insurance to cover the event.
"We had everything we needed in place," Molino said.
The event included a cash bar in the second floor community room and partygoers were free to carry drinks, if they wished, into the portion of the concourse being used for the party.
Bialkowski thinks the conflict could have been resolved if the organizers had been willing to put up signs and station one or two people in the stairway to ensure drinks were not carried down stairs.
"There justification is that they had insurance," Bialkowski said. "A million dollar policy with an additional insured is nothing in today's atmosphere."
Bialkowski said she first alerted Vibrant Batavia to the potential problem as far back as August and raised concerns then.
Leanna Di Risio, of Vibrant Batavia and a member of the Centennial Committee, wrote a letter to Bialkowski on Nov. 7 outlining celebration plans and requesting the mall association's support of the celebration.
The association's operating committee voted Dec. 4 to deny the committee permission for use of the space. (Dec. 4 is a late date for such a decision, Bialkowski admits, but said the committee couldn't meet in November because of travel and vacations of members).
The city has filed a suit against the merchants claiming the association owes more than $800,000 in back rent for the concourse.
As for the claim of trespass, Molino said, "The mall merchants are just being obstructionists."
Bialkowski said she realizes she could have called the police on the trespass complaint, but felt that would just be unfair to any officer who responded, putting the officer in awkward position.
"No one here wanted to ruin the event," Bialkowski said.