By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto announced that the Hillview Commission and PBL Catering Inc. have reached an agreement for early termination of PBL’s license to operate the function hall of the Hillview Country Club.
PBL Catering, owned by Pat Lee, owner of the Horseshoe Grille, took over operations of the Hillview function hall in January 2013 in a five year deal. Gilleberto said PBL and the Hillview Commission reached an agreement to end the agreement effective Nov. 30, 2015.
“A combination of economic circumstances and limitations on the town’s ability to fund capital improvements in the function hall due to a critical irrigation system upgrade project funded in June of 2014 and begun this past fall contributed to the need for early termination,” Gilleberto reported.
Gilleberto said the commission will be issuing a request for proposals to operate the function hall beginning December 1 and the RFP will solicit proposals for potentially re–opening the Pub, but a final decision on whether to re–open the Pub won’t be made until all proposals are reviewed.
Gilleberto acknowledged the professionalism of Lee and the Hillview Commission in coming to a resolution that meets the needs of all parties.
Selectman Stephen O’Leary agreed, saying the discussion to terminate the contract had been going on for months and was handled in a very professional manner. He acknowledged Gilleberto’s role in bringing things to closure.
“It appears to be in everyone’s best interest to modify the contract,” O’Leary said.
Lee told the Transcript he was disappointed in the way things turned out.
“When I came into this I was excited about being able to take one of the town’s crown jewels and raise the bar a little bit. We certainly tried it by investing some of our own money and based on their comments, people really enjoyed the improvement in food quality. So I felt pretty good about that.
“I’m disappointed we weren’t able to see the vision all the way through, because as a town we’ve kind of let this building go from a country club setting to a (function) hall setting. People view us more as a hall than a country club. We were hoping and felt we had a shared vision with the Hillview Commission but as time went along it seemed our vision and their budget weren’t coinciding. We thoroughly enjoyed doing business with the non–profits and the proms for the school systems and helping families celebrate significant events. But the economics aren’t adding up.” He said there’s not a great interest in the Hillview for weddings, etc. and there are much tighter margins for events like non–profits, etc.
Lee felt the town has done a great job in maintaining and improving the golf course for the last 25 years but he felt the function hall has been allowed to fall behind.
“I get the business decision side of it,” said Lee. The golf course makes more money than the function hall. “But for every action there’s a reaction.”
Lee said the golf course now is in much better condition than when the town took it over. But the same can’t be said for the function hall. In October 2012, for instance, $300,000 was allocated by Town Meeting for improvements to the building but outside some maintenance items, the money hasn’t been spent.
“There was a lot of community pride on my part when I came here. I’m not looking to run another country club anywhere. There was only one facility I was interested in, this one, so we can all build for the future and get it ready for the next generation. I wish them great success and I hope it succeeds to everyone’s benefit.”
The town is already advertising for a new operator at the function hall and the pub. The first of several legal notices appears in today’s Transcript. Requests for Proposals will be available in the Town Administrator’s office beginning March 2 and must be returned by March 31. There’s a briefing session and tour of the facility scheduled for March 16.
The contract is expected to be awarded by the Hillview and the town administrator by April 15.