Chilmark takes second bite at Home Port
The Chilmark selectmen have agreed to buy the Home Port restaurant property and two associated waterfront lots for $2 million, from Will and Madeline Holtham. Selectmen executed the agreement Tuesday and announced it in a press statement released yesterday. The sale must be approved by Chilmark voters at a town meeting.
The town meeting warrant article the selectmen will place before voters, at a special town meeting already planned for Sept. 22, will propose to finance the acquisition, remove the building, retain parking, provide a comfort station to relieve the burden on the Dutcher Dock facilities, create additional town water access for kayaks and small boats, and create a public park space, to restore and preserve the views of Menemsha Pond and Menemsha Creek and the dunes beyond.
This is the second time Chilmark voters will consider whether to buy the Home Port property. An earlier, more expensive proposal was rejected by voters.
Selectman chairman Frank Fenner, a supporter of the acquisition, did not participate in the negotiations. Mr. Fenner owns the Galley, a restaurant across from the waterfront lots the town may acquire. Selectman Warren Doty and selectman J. B. Riggs Parker approved the terms. Mr. Parker said yesterday he negotiated the agreement for the selectmen.
The deal includes two lots on which the restaurant and its associated parking sit and two waterfront lots to the west, across the road leading to the Coast Guard station. A fifth lot, owned by the Holthams and including a dock projecting into the creek, is not part of the town purchase, but may be offered for sale, Mr. Holtham said yesterday.
Mr. Holtham, 32 years in the Home Port business, said he is hopeful that voters will approve this deal. This time, he said, "the town pursued me, and it's a better rate [price]."
The Home Port was established in 1931. Mr. Holtham began working at the restaurant in 1967 and purchased it 10 years later from Chet and Esther Cummens, who had owned and run it since the late 1960s.
Photo by Susan Safford
The popular Menemsha seafood establishment draws throngs in the summertime for the ocean-fresh entrees and first-class sunsets. Its "back-door dinner" service, once a well-kept secret, does a thriving take-out trade catering to those who want Home Port food without the frills.
During one of the Vineyard's frequent real estate booms in 1999, Mr. Holtham put the business on the market for one month with a $6.5 million asking price, to see what would happen. Nothing did, and he stayed in the restaurant business.
With plans to re-list the property, the restaurant owners approached Chilmark selectmen in August 2005, to propose that the town buy the restaurant building, a parking lot and land and a dock on Menemsha creek, at a figure below the price Mr. Holtham said he planned to list it at on the open real estate market.
The reduced purchase price was offered with the stipulation that the town had to act quickly to express any interest.
The Chilmark selectmen responded by appointing five town residents to a special committee to help the town consider what uses might be made of the Home Port if voters decided to purchase the family eatery.
At a special town meeting on Nov. 21, 2005 Chilmark voters debated and then rejected decisively a proposal that the town buy the property. Opinion was divided among those who favored a purchase as a way to maintain control of the picturesque port and those who said the purchase price was too high and the town had no use for the property.
But in a last minute twist to what at the time seemed like the final chapter in a long-running story, Charles FitzGerald, a wealthy Chilmark property owner and environmental activist, stepped forward in December with a plan to purchase the Home Port restaurant and hold it for one year, in order to buy some time for a group of Chilmarkers working on a way to acquire the property for the town.
One month later in January 2006, Mr. FitzGerald, a Maine businessman responsible for helping to preserve thousands of acres in that state, withdrew from the deal to purchase the restaurant and property for $3.9 million, the same price at which it was offered to the town. He said he had decided that his personal financial risk in the deal appeared to be too great.