Facing A Lawsuit, Future Of Poppy Marketplace In Jeopardy
By: Geoff Spillane
Tenants of the Popponesset Marketplace this week received notice that a majority of businesses there would not be allowed to open for the upcoming summer season and the remaining businesses would have to vacate at summer’s end.
According to a notice issued by marketplace management on Wednesday, the closure is a result of a 2010 lawsuit filed against the owner of the marketplace regarding handicapped accessibility.
Several businesses have leases that expire at the end of 2011 and will be allowed to remain open for a final season. They include the Raw Bar, Bob’s Seafood Café and Wine Bar, Emack & Bolio’s ice cream shop, Rebecca O’ Donnell Art Gallery and Popponesset Miniature Golf.
Representatives from Popponesset Marketplace provided a copy of the notice, but declined an interview request from the Enterprise.
“This is very troubling and discomforting,” said Selectman Michael R. Richardson. “The closing of Popponesset Marketplace will have an impact on the entire town. It is a very difficult situation for all parties involved.”
The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Boston in early 2010 by longtime Popponesset summer visitor and film actor Daniel J. Murphy Jr., who alleges violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Mr. Murphy is asking the court to require alteration of the marketplace to meet ADA accessibility guideline compliance.
The notice from owner to tenants
In January 2010, the owner of the Marketplace was sued in the United States Federal District Court over claimed deficiencies at the Marketplace regarding handicapped accessibility. The Marketplace was constructed in the early 1980’s pursuant to building permits issued by the Town. After the construction of the Marketplace, the United States Congress enacted the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Regulations promulgated under the ADA required a place of public accommodation to conform to ADA Accessibility Guidelines. The Plaintiff in the lawsuit alleges violations of the ADA and seeks injunctive relief to require the Marketplace to be altered by bringing it in full compliance with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
As a result of the suit Management has made several attempts to reach a resolution of the court action. However, these efforts have not been successful. Because many of our leases are year to year, the existence of the lawsuit precludes us from renewing those leases for the 2011 season. Several other leases expire at the end of 2011, including The Raw Bar, the Cafe, the Ice Cream shop, the Art Studio and Mini Golf. As things presently stand, those businesses will close thereafter.
We know that this will be a great disappointment to Marketplace patrons and tenants alike. Unfortunately some things are just not meant to be and at this writing the Marketplace will close for good at the end of the 2011 season. We hope that you will continue to patronize Bob Weekes and his associates at the Raw Bar, and Cafe, Joe and Laurie Anastos at Emack & Bolio’s, Rebecca and Gene O’Donnell at the Art Studio as well as Donna Bochanowski at Mini Golf. Bob Weekes, our longest and most enduring tenant, has created an institution in both of his establishments and we are confident that you will support him to the end. We regret not being able to sign leases for all our other hard working tenants as we know the Marketplace was an important part of their livelihoods. The Marketplace management also wants to thank all our Tenants for their hard work in making the Marketplace a fun place to go for the past twenty eight years. And finally we want to thank a generation of your Marketplace patrons for their loyal patronage. The Marketplace could not have succeeded without both you and your patrons.
The marketplace was constructed nearly a decade before the ADA guidelines went into effect in 1992. There is no “grandfather clause” exempting older “places of public accommodation” from achieving ADA compliance.
Marketplace tenants include nearly 20 restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. It is home to the Mashpee Congregational Church and is also a popular venue for functions, concerts, and entertainment during the summer months.
The Mashpee Assessor’s Office lists Popponesset Marketplace LLC as the owner of the property, which comprises less than two acres of land and has an assessed value of $1,327,000.
“I’m very sad that the two parties could not reach an agreement. This will be a huge blow to the community,” said Robert L. Weekes, owner of the Raw Bar and Bob’s Seafood Café and Wine Bar. “The marketplace has become a summer tradition for families. Their children grow up here, and often spend summers working at the marketplace. The economic impact will be significant. This is not a good time to be losing jobs.”
When informed of the closure, the Reverend James S. Scovil of the Mashpee Congregational Church said, “Our relationship with the marketplace has been a real blessing to the Church. We will have to take time sort out this news and what it will mean for the congregation.”
In 1974, Mr. Murphy, then 19 years old, was involved in a diving accident on Martha’s Vineyard, becoming a C-6 spinal cord injured quadriplegic.
With him that day on the Vineyard was Peter Farelly, a Popponesset summer friend and now well-known film writer and director. In the ensuing years, Mr. Murphy has appeared in several films produced by Peter and his brother Bobby Farelly, including “Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary,” and, most recently, “Hall Pass.”
Despite his injury, Mr. Murphy continued his annual visits to Popponesset. “My life changed, but my love of Cape Cod never did,” said Mr. Murphy.
Becoming an advocate for the disabled, Mr. Murphy and his attorney in 1997 wrote a letter to Christopher Burden, president of New Seabury Corporation, demanding access to the area be improved threatening a lawsuit.
After visiting the marketplace, Mr. Murphy claimed there was inadequate disabled parking, seashell landscaping that made wheelchair navigation difficult, and poor access to stores and restaurants.
“The seashells are charming, but they’re a nightmare for people in wheelchairs. Even pushing a baby stroller on that surface is difficult,” Mr. Murphy in an interview with the Enterprise.
Now, 14 years later, Mr. Murphy claims no action had been taken, and the situation for the disabled has not improved at Popponesset Marketplace.
According to a complaint filed by Attorney Nicholas S. Guerrera with the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, in August 2009 Mr. Murphy visited the marketplace to meet friends at The Raw Bar and had difficulty parking and entering the building.
The court document states that “a wheelchair user cannot navigate the crushed seashell surface of the parking lot without assistance from someone pushing it,” and that “the doorway to nearly every shop and restaurant in the marketplace has a raised threshold such that a person in a wheelchair could not cross over it independently.”
According to the complaint, the goal of the lawsuit is to “order the defendant to alter the Popponesset Marketplace by bringing it into full compliance with the [federal guidelines], including the parking areas, general function areas, public restrooms, transactional counters, and all other amenities installed for the use of the general public, including walkways, ramps, and all public entrances as well as the stairs and corridors, to make the Marketplace readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities to the extent required by the Americans with Disabilities Act…”
Mr. Murphy said, “I’m not a litigious person. The closing of the marketplace is the last thing I want to happen. It breaks my heart, and I feel for the shopkeepers, but the management has not been reactive. They do not have to take this route.”
According to Mr. Murphy, a proposed solution by the marketplace was developed to satisfy his individual needs, which Mr. Murphy claims were mistakenly “only about getting me into the Raw Bar” but did not address the needs of the entire disabled population.
“It’s not just about me,” said Mr. Murphy.
A counter proposal to make all shops, restaurants, and common areas accessible to the disabled was offered by Mr. Murphy’s attorney.
“It was totally ignored, and we were pretty much told to take it or leave it,” added Mr. Murphy. “The marketplace may as well hang a sign outside that says ‘No Disabled Allowed.’ It’s just wrong.”
Despite the lawsuit and controversy, Mr. Murphy looks forward to returning to Popponesset again this summer.