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Est. 2014
The growing discord among the original tenants of the Castle spilled out into district court this week, with Cameo restaurant filing a civil suit against Castle Community LLC and affiliated arts groups.
The complaint, filed on Jan. 5, alleges the Castle breached its contract with the restaurant by failing to activate the top two floors of the building in the way it represented it would when the lease was signed in 2018.
Since September 2020, the Castle has been leasing the floors above Cameo to Echo Church. Originally presented as a temporary move, Echo has continued to operate in the building past its original one-year lease.
“Echo Church’s presence at the Castle fundamentally alters the character and use of the premises and hinders Cameo’s ability to profitably operate its restaurant and catering business,” Cameo alleges in the suit. (Cameo is owned by Zach and Danika Ohly of Early Bird Hospitality Group.)
In addition to Castle Community LLC, Cameo lists Naura Anderson and the names of two organizations she has operated under, Threshold Arts and Naura’s Art Group, as defendants in the lawsuit.
Cameo alleges that throughout its occupancy in the building, Anderson failed to “exercise reasonable business judgment” in programming the top two floors of the Castle as had been originally represented. As a result, Cameo claims it “has suffered, and will continue to suffer, lost revenues and other monetary damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”
Neither the Castle group nor Anderson have filed answers to the lawsuit. Castle co-owner Scott Hoss, who has been the spokesperson for the ownership group, did not respond to our request for comment.
Cameo is not alone in pressing the point about the presence of Echo. The City of Rochester — which sold the former armory building to the current ownership group on the condition it be used to enhance arts and culture for a period of at least five years — informed the Castle in November it was in breach of contract for continuing to lease to the church.
After originally giving the Castle 60 days to come into compliance, the city agreed this week to extend the deadline to March 31, 2022. Jaymi Wilson, a project manager for the city, said the goal is to give the Castle “time to reposition the space and negotiate leases with potential new tenants.”
“During the pandemic we have attempted to work with various partners to ensure compliance with agreements and respect the environment that they are working in,” Wilson said via email. “By extending the compliance period, we still adhere to the activation period while recognizing that many venues are consistently adapting and repositioning.”
In exchange for the extension, the Castle ownership group agreed to extend the mandatory period for arts and cultural use for an additional three months — pushing the date from Nov. 30, 2023 to Feb. 28, 2024.
While the Castle ownership group has not commented on the most recent legal challenge involving Cameo restaurant, it has previously sought to reassure the public about its goals for the project.
As recently as November, Hoss said the group remains “committed to the vision of the Castle that was presented to the community.” He did not offer specifics about how it plans to meet the terms of its contract with the city.
The Castle group paid $675,000 for the 107-year-old building after its proposal was selected following an RFP process by the city in 2017.
Its future plans for the building have generated additional scrutiny in recent months as Threshold Arts makes a push to become the next operator of another historic downtown building, the Chateau Theatre.
Threshold’s proposal for the Chateau was the early favorite among city staff, though some members of the Rochester City Council said they wanted to hold off on a decision while the Castle situation unfolds.
This week, however, Council President Brooke Carlson said she does not expect the ongoing Castle situation will have any formal influence over the staff recommendation. The council is expected to continue discussion on the future of the Chateau later this month.
Sean Baker is a Rochester journalist and the founder of Med City Beat.
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