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Mar 16, 2010 7:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sunday could be the last day for Fairway

Mar 16, 2010 7:18 PM

With the Fairway Restaurant’s future still hanging by a thread of hope, owner Dan Murray said this week that if he does get word that he has to move out by March 31, this weekend could be the restaurant’s final curtain call.

“I have to be prepared to leave on March 31,” Mr. Murray said by phone from Florida on Tuesday. “I haven’t officially heard one way or the other yet, but if I’m going to close, this Sunday might be my last day. I don’t know if I’d be able to go one more week.”

Mr. Murray said he had given up hope that negotiations between Southampton and East Hampton towns, which jointly own the Poxabogue Golf Center where the Fairway has operated for the last 20 years, and the property’s manager, Ed Wankel, would identify a way for him to keep his popular cafe at the property. He planned to return to New York on Wednesday to prepare for the Fairway’s closing.

But then he received a call from Southampton Town Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes on Monday telling him that the town had made one last offer to Mr. Wankel that might allow the Fairway to stay.

Mr. Blowes confirmed on Tuesday that, after members of the two town boards met last week, a new offer was made to Mr. Wankel. Mr. Blowes said he could not discuss details of the latest proposal, but said that it was rooted in separating the lease agreement for the restaurant from the overall property management agreement with Mr. Wankel.

“I think they were trying to work it out where the food and beverage agreement was separate from the golf,” Mr. Blowes said. “Otherwise, the overall terms of the contract would be the same.”

Southampton and East Hampton towns purchased the Poxabogue property in 2003 to save it from being razed for residential development. For three years, they kept the contract for the restaurant and the contract for management of the property separate. But in 2008, Mr. Wankel’s company, Long Island Golf Management, and the towns inked a five-year agreement that gave the property manager control of the restaurant’s lease.

“The town doesn’t want to be in the restaurant business,” Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said of the reasoning behind giving control of the restaurant lease to Mr. Wankel. Ms. Graboski said that the Fairway Restaurant’s popularity was a factor in their considerations, which is why a right of first refusal on the restaurant lease for Mr. Murray was put in the management agreement.

“There were certain commitments made in the previous contracts where Dan had agreed to make certain renovations and didn’t and we just didn’t want to have to be dealing with that kind of stuff,” she said. “Dan Murray is a very popular guy. [The Fairway] is fun, and everybody likes the ambience. But there are some issues. We tried to go back and forth, but in the end we didn’t want to be dealing with that sort of thing.”

Mr. Murray has made no bones about his strained relationship with Mr. Wankel since Long Island Golf Management took over the property and has said that the demands Mr. Wankel has made in the lease he offered were unfair and required him to take unreasonable financial risks. He rejected the lease agreement offered to him last year.

Mr. Wankel’s management contract for the property has three years left on it. Mr. Murray said he was not willing to sink large amounts of money into renovations for the restaurant if he didn’t have a guarantee that he wouldn’t be dealing with a new boss in three years. He has also complained about demands in the lease that the restaurant stay open for dinner, regardless of whether it made financial sense.

Mr. Wankel, who has not responded to numerous calls seeking comment in recent weeks, has told the towns he has a lease agreement with the owners of a Mattituck diner to take over the Poxabogue restaurant space. Mr. Blowes said the towns have not gotten a response from Mr. Wankel since their latest offer.

Mr. Murray said the issue will have to be resolved one way or the other by this weekend. “It’s getting too late for me to wait anymore, if I’m going to have to be out,” he said.

Mr. Murray, who also runs the restaurant at Montauk Downs State Park, said he is looking at several possible new locations for his restaurant. In 2003, when the former owners of Poxabogue had closed the property during their fight with the town’s regulatory boards over development plans, Mr. Murray served breakfast and lunch in the building across the street, which was Alison by the Beach at dinnertime. He also operated a version of the Fairway restaurant in the former Water Mill train station.

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Would be a shame to see this place go - Loved by all locals and summer residents alike - Hope the towns can step in and help
By sfpro (21), Southampton on Mar 18, 10 5:51 PM
Tiime to rally in support of Dan Murray!

The towns of East Hampton and Southampton did not rescue Poxy from development just because they felt like it. They did it because there was a HUGE PUBLIC OUTCRY when they at first failed to act.

Surely, there are 'outs' in the management contract, if the management company fails to act in the best interest of the towns and their citizens. The citizens want the Fairway to remain. The management company is not fulfilling its obligation ...more
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Mar 19, 10 6:08 AM
Don't wait for the Towns to act--rally this weekend in support of the Fairway!!!!!
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Mar 19, 10 6:09 AM
Drive-in movies,Coopers Beach, Southampton village