Airport Mobil sues MV Airport Commission after losing lease

Business owner Michael Rotondo contends commissioners reneged on verbal assurances and conditions of bid process were not met.

Airport Mobile owner Michael Rotondo is taking the MV Airport Commission to court. — Stacey Rupolo

On March 9, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC) awarded the 20-year lease for the lot on 3 Northline Road in the M.V. Airport Business Park to Louis Paciello, owner of Depot Corner gas stations in Edgartown. A move that could effectively put Airport Mobil owner Michael Rotondo out of business.

In response, Mr. Rotondo is seeking a preliminary injunction against the commission’s decision. Depot Corner is also named in the motion. A hearing is scheduled in Dukes County Superior Court on Tuesday, April 11, at 9:30 am.

“I’ve worked hard for 20 years and they’ve literally pulled the rug out from underneath of me,” Mr. Rotondo told The Times. Mr. Rotondo employs eight people year round, and 14 people in the summer. “My employees are scared. We’ve had people going home crying,” he said.

Mr. Rotondo said he has been petitioning the MVAC to renew his 20-year lease for 12 years. “I was trying to refinance so I could make improvements to the place. No bank is going to give you a 15-year note when you have a 12-year lease,” he said. “I’ve also had several offers to purchase the place.” Mr. Rotondo said he also had verbal assurances from MVAC chairman Myron Garfinkle that his lease renewal was a “duck walk,” and that he received similar assurances from commissioner Richard Michaelson.

“[The commissioners] have been leading me to believe that everything is going to be fine. I was taking them at their word,” he said. “They promised honesty and transparency when they took their positions.”

Mr. Garfinkle did not return a phone or email message. Attempts to reach Mr. Michaelson by email were also unsuccessful.

Mr. Rotondo believes any business owner in the airport business park is vulnerable to losing his or her lease, many of which will be coming up for renewal in the next few years. “If they’re outbid by 20 cents, they’re out of luck,” he said.

In his proposal, Mr. Paciello bid $3.49 per square foot — $126,400 per year.

Mr. Rotondo said he doubled his initial bid to $3.01 per square foot — $108,980 per year.

Mr. Rotondo contends Mr. Paciello’s bid did not include any improvements to the property, whereas he was planning to invest $500,000 in new tanks, new pumps, a new car wash, and enlarging the convenience store.

“Technically, if you take that into consideration, I should have won that bid,” he said.

The motion filed by Mr. Rotondo’s attorney, Michael Mahoney, also asserts that Mr. Paciello did not comply with the terms of the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) because he did not make a good faith offer for the facilities and improvements made by Mr. Rotondo over the years. Mr. Rotondo said he had an independent appraisal that valued the business — gas station, car wash, vacuum, oil lube, and convenience store — at $5 million. The same appraisal valued the assessed taxable value of the buildings at $589,000.

“He offered $250,000 and said take it or leave it,” Mr. Rotondo said. “He lowballed me and walked out. I have nothing against him, but his offer was so ridiculous. I was willing to work with him. I told him I would help him out the first year.”

The 34 page RFQ that went out on Dec. 30 did not have any provision that would require that Mr. Rotondo be compensated at “fair market value,” according to M.V. Airport manager Ann Crook. “It says whoever wins can negotiate with the current operator or if they don’t want the assets the current operator has to remove them. Those are the choices,” she said.

In addition, Ms. Crook said that money was not the sole deciding factor.

“It was not just decided on the proposed rental lease amount. There were other criteria, a description of an operation plan, a statement of experience, detailed financial data, and business references, and any additional narrative they wanted to provide…Overall, the winner had a much, much better proposal.”

Mr. Rotondo said Airport Mobil remains open while the dispute is being resolved. “It’s business as usual until hopefully the court rules in our favor,” he said.