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City, restaurant owner to consider use of Whitewater Park deck

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Patrons of Maggie’s on the River could soon be served food and alcohol on the city-owned deck overlooking the Black River.

The Watertown City Council informally agreed Monday night to give the owners of the 500 Newell St. restaurant a more permanent arrangement to use the city-owned deck attached to the restaurant’s building.

A few years ago, the deck became a source of some controversy after the city paid $80,000 to construct the deck, in Whitewater Park, and then Maggie’s owners asked to use it for the business. State Department of State officials expressed reservations about Maggie’s owners using the deck, saying the restaurant would infringe on the use of the park and the deck, which was designed as a walkway.

But both the city and Maggie’s owner, Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr., have been sorting out the issues in recent weeks, so the deck can be used this summer.

“Hopefully, we can get around it and keep things moving forward,” Mr. Schweitzer said after council members instructed city staff to work out a deal.

If all works out, the council may be asked to approve the arrangement at the July 15 meeting. The state Liquor Authority also must approve the restaurant’s application to serve alcohol on the deck.

Last year, the Department of State ruled the only way Maggie’s could use it is if the city bought the tables. It would have cost about $1,200 each for two or three tables. The city then would have to rent the tables to the business.

Department of State officials said they were concerned about alienating park users if the restaurant were allowed to use the deck.

At the time, both city officials and Maggie’s owners expressed their frustrations about the state’s logic.

During Monday night’s discussion, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he wanted to avoid reviving previous debate over the issue, saying he “did not want to open old scabs.” He contended the deck should be used for the commercial establishment.

“It’s a deck,” he said. “It’s not a walkway. It’s a deck.”

Mr. Graham is also a tavern owner.

In other action, the council approved a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the developers of the Woolworth building restoration project. There was no discussion before the unanimous vote.

The PILOT would start at a fixed rate of $9,000. In year five, it would increase to $12,000, then go up to $15,000 in the 10th year. The full payment of $24,578 would occur in the 16th year.

Last week, the Watertown City School District approved the tax-abatement package for the $15.4 million project to turn the landmark into 50 apartments. Jefferson County also must approve it.

Council members also unanimously agreed to eliminate a provision requiring the former Iron Block property to revert to the city if the developers fail to proceed with the project within three years.

Developers David Gallo and Erich H. Seber want the green space between Cam’s New York Pizzeria and the Woodruff Professional Building, where the Iron Block once stood, for tenant parking. The developers wanted the language changed, contending that investors were skittish about the three-year stipulation.

In December, the council agreed to give the developers a three-year option on the green space for $1, instead of just selling it to them.

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