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Restaurant owner pitches plan for New London pier

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New London — The owner of several successful waterfront restaurants, including Sunset Ribs in Waterford, has pitched a plan to boost activity on New London’s waterfront.

Restaurant Consultants Inc. President Frank Maratta is attempting to negotiate a lease with the city for space to open Whaling City Dock, a restaurant and oyster bar overlooking the water on Custom House Pier.

“I think this is a great idea. This could be an economic generator, bringing in people who might not have normally come to the downtown,” New London Port Authority Chairman Kenneth Edwards said.

Maratta envisions a seasonal, casual restaurant that serves lunch, dinner and cocktails with a walk-up kitchen and waterfront seating. He presented the proposal to the city’s Port Authority earlier this year.

The restaurant would be a convenient option for boaters docked at the pier, Maratta said.

Since a restaurant on the dock is subject to Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, the portable structure would be constructed with shipping containers. Maratta said he plans to construct the restaurant off-site and will be prepared to bring in the structure for the spring of 2019 if his proposal is approved.

Maratta compares the concept of the restaurant to that of Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough in Noank or Dad’s Restaurant in Niantic. The restaurant would offer a seafood menu with a barbeque smoker, oyster bar and sit-down bar. The restaurant would employ 40 full- and part-time employees.

Edwards said Maratta first approached him at the Hartford Boat Show in February. Edwards, on behalf of the Port Authority, was manning a booth at the show and promoting the city.

“I was doing my best to sell New London, and I guess it worked,” Edwards said. “I certainly didn’t go in thinking we would get a restaurant proposal.”

Edwards said the Port Authority has endorsed the proposal, which he sees as an activity that would not only benefit an underutilized waterfront but also support businesses in the downtown. He said Claudio’s in Greenport is a good example of a restaurant that served as a catalyst for a more fully developed waterfront.

Edwards said he’s heard rumblings from some business owners on Bank Street about the city offering an unfair, competitive advantage to a new business. But he said the city has spent years trying to attract ideas for the waterfront, including an unsuccessful attempt last year to enlist a waterfront manager. In this case, Edwards said someone came up with an idea that will not only generate activity but provide revenue in the form of a lease agreement.

The City Council on Tuesday is expected to meet in executive session to discuss terms of a potential lease. Maratta’s initial proposal was for a 10-year lease with monthly payments of $1,000 in the first few years and $2,000 monthly payments in later years.

Maratta has offered to assume maintenance duties at the pier and its bathrooms, help to promote the waterfront and provide assistance with docking boats at the Custom House Pier and at city events, such as Sailfest.

Since parking is scarce in the area, Maratta said he would promote the idea of a shuttle service.

In addition to Sunset Ribs, Maratta has developed Harbor Park in Middletown and The Pavilion in Old Lyme. Maratta called New London “an undiscovered jewel.”

“I think the project has been well received and well supported, and I look forward to making a huge investment at a totally underutilized location,” Maratta said. “I never even realized the facilities down there. With the boats, the trains going by and lights on the Thames. It’s breathtaking.”


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