Food deal bodes well for future of Lawn on D
The future just got brighter for Lawn on D, the popular South Boston park whose operating losses have drawn scrutiny from the cost-conscious Baker administration.
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority recently signed a food and alcohol contract with a major Boston restaurant operator that could run five years, a sign that officials expect the park to be around for a while.
The deal with Rebel Restaurants, an affiliate of Cronin Group, guarantees that 15 percent of the gross food and beverage sales at the Lawn will go to the convention center authority. Convention center officials said Cronin was the only bidder for the job.
The figure represents a modest improvement over the previous concessions deal that the agency had for the 2.7-acre park with an affiliate of Lincoln, the South Boston restaurant. That contract paid the authority a 15 percent commission on alcohol sales and 10 percent on food.
Agency spokesman Phil Crohan said Lawn concession payments brought in $220,000 to the authority in the Lawn’s first full season, in 2015. He said authority officials hope to increase that amount to $400,000 under the Cronin contract, which kicks in when the season opens May 21.
But Crohan said the agency has not made a formal commitment to keeping the Lawn open long term. Much will depend on the authority’s efforts to bring in more revenue — including corporate sponsorships such as a recently signed $250,000 contract with Citizens Bank — and control expenses.
“This [food and beverage contract] is a big part of making the space even more successful and financially sustainable, and we are hopeful that this combined with sponsorships and other efforts will mean that The Lawn remains open for the long term,” Crohan said in an e-mail.
The Lawn operated at a $2.3 million loss last year. Officials there want to pare that significantly in 2016. Much of that money was used to pay for programs that are free to the public, such as movie nights and festivals. Agency officials are also hoping to increase facility rental revenue this year, in part by building a private tent area for events. And board members have discussed possibly charging admission to the Lawn sometime during this year’s season, which ends in October.
The agency, under new executive director David Gibbons, recently trimmed some personnel, including the job of the manager who had overseen the Lawn.
Cronin’s portfolio of a dozen Boston-area restaurants includes the South Boston outlets Whiskey Priest, The Playwright, Temazcal, Jerry Remy’s, and others. The company also aims to build a 22-story waterfront tower not far from the Lawn, at the Whiskey Priest site.
The company, which is led by principal Jon Cronin, said its managers had been watching the crowds gather at the Lawn since it opened in mid-2014 and knew they would want to get involved with food service if the opportunity opened up. More than 230,000 people visited the park in its first two years combined, including a shortened season in 2014.
The contract with Cronin is for three years, with two one-year options to extend, but the group’s planning has been focused on a five-year time frame. “All of our interactions with the MCCA indicate that the Lawn on D is here to stay,” a Cronin spokesman said.
The spokesman said the group plans to significantly expand the menu beyond the standard burger-and-dog fare, while encouraging more people to visit the Lawn by bringing additional live entertainment and hosting theme nights.
Crohan said Cronin is proposing to spend as much as $500,000 on the Lawn for equipment and other improvements as well as a liquor license and the firm expects to slowly recover those expenses over time.