Queens parks missed out on $730K: Liu

City Comptroller John Liu skates in the same World Ice Arena in 2009 that was included in his recent audit of city Parks Department concession contracts.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A city watchdog issued a report last week saying that concession businesses in Queens parks could have raked in an additional $728,358 over the last three years if it were not for the city Parks Department mishandling of the contracts.

City Comptroller John Liu’s report cited mishandling of 51 contracts for operating restaurants, food carts, an ice skating rink and other concessions on Parks property for the lost revenue, which totaled $8.8 million on a citywide level.

Queens ranked just behind Manhattan, which could have made $5.3 million, in lost money, according to Liu.

The report chalked up the losses to bad time management and gaps between successive concessionaires, which left the city with diminished or no revenue in the interim, and recommended Parks improve the way it handles concession contracts after total revenues fell from $52.6 million in fiscal year 2008 to about $39.8 million three years later.

“Parks are not just about concessions, but concession contracts should be better managed so that revenue flows to the city without unnecessary interruption,” Liu said in a statement.

But Robert Garafola, deputy Parks commissioner for management and budget, took issue with most of the audit’s findings and fired off a letter to Liu’s office.

“We strongly believe that this report does a disservice to Parks and to the public, and that its conclusions are misleading and unfounded,” Garafola said.

The biggest loss in Queens, and one of the more hotly contested findings in the audit, came from Valentino’s on the Green, formerly Caffe on the Green.

Liu’s report said the city lost out on $379,167 in the downtime between the transfer from the old concession to the new concessionaire.

Yet Parks said it was following a court injunction when they gave the previous owner, Joe Franco, the boot as part of a settlement in a legal battle over Franco’s bookkeeping.

Liu countered that Parks was too lenient with the new operator prior to the restaurant’s opening.

“Essentially, this concession failed to operate and generate revenue because Parks improperly extended the newly awarded concessionaire’s capital construction period and, thus, the commencement date by 11 months,” the auditor wrote.

Parks also disputed $119,667 in what the report said was lost revenue from the transition of operators at the ice skating rink in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Liu said Parks did not plan enough in advance to solicit contracts for the new operator.

Liu’s report covered Parks property all over the borough.

Better handling of a contract to run a gas station along the Grand Central Parkway could have netted the city $14,777, the report said.

Souvenir carts in Astoria Park could have brought in $10,555, better tennis professional contracts in Juniper Valley Park could have made $1,180, according to the report.

But Parks had much to say about the way Liu conducted the audit and said in many cases gaps in operation were used to make critical capital improvements that in the end raked in more money from the city anyway.

“The recommendations in this report, if followed, would have Parks pursue concession revenue above all other considerations,” Garafola said. “We cannot simply ignore legal obligations and ongoing legal proceedings to maintain a revenue stream, nor would we forgo opportunities to obtain large-scale, long-term capital investments that while they may temporarily delay the collection of a revenue stream will permanently increase the value of that stream for the future.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260.

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