In an email sent to the student body earlier this morning, President Sean Decatur answered questions about the shut down of the Gambier Grill, colloquially known as the Cove. President Decatur claims that an agreement between the college and Andy Durbin (the owner of the Cove) has been in the works for quite some time, as Durbin made it clear he no longer wanted to run the restaurant. The college offered several “financial incentives” to Durbin in order to keep the Cove open until the end of the school year; however, Durbin rejected these offers and announced this weekend that the Cove’s doors were closing.
The attached document to President Decatur’s email claims that Durbin rejected these financial incentives twice before the college decided not to renew the lease.
The College did not indicate prior knowledge that the Cove would be shutting down for good on Saturday evening. In the attached document, Mark Kohlman, Chief Business Officer, says that the student vandalism of the establishment on Saturday night may have contributed to this decision.
President Decatur stated Kenyon is attempting to bring back a more retail-based feel to the village, as in recent years it has been overrun by administration buildings. He added that there will hopefully be a Cove alternative, as well as drastic changes to Farr Hall and campus housing (specifically tearing down the New Apts) in the next two and a half years. In the meantime, they hope to place a Cove alternative in Peirce Pub, as well as food truck alternatives for the remainder of the spring semester. Decatur emphasized that the Cove alternative will not be college-run, but an independently owned business.
Read President Decatur’s full statement below:
“Dear Members of the Kenyon College Community,
On Sunday, the Gambier Grill closed its doors for the last time. We received official notice of this development on Monday afternoon and attached to this letter is a closing announcement. Given concerns about the Grill and the plans for a new bar/restaurant in Gambier, I’d like to provide more context on how we arrived at this point and our vision for the future.
Discussions about the Gambier Grill site began during the Campus Master Plan process in 2014, led by a committee consisting of faculty, staff, students and community members. The plan addressed the inadequacies of various buildings and facilities in the village. Some had reached a point of serious disrepair and would require major re-investment or demolition. The village had become, in the past few decades, increasingly dominated by administrative offices of the College, reducing retail space along the main corridors (Gaskin and Chase avenues). In the past, the core of the village had more retail and mixed-use spaces, and in the long-term we plan to return to this model, moving away from the more institutional facilities that we see now. And more housing for students and others in this part of the village is in demand.
One of the spots identified as in need of work was the lot behind Farr Hall. The Student Activities Office, which was razed in January, had become most effective as a home for rodents and feral animals, and the Gambier Grill, while important as a restaurant option in town, occupied a building on its last legs.
As far back as the summer of 2014, the owner and operator of the Grill, Andy Durbin, notified the College that he was interested in finding a buyer to take over the business. Discussions between the College and the owner of the Grill continued into this past fall, when he made clear his desire to get out of the business. Without a buyer for the Grill, and given the fact that the site had already been slated for redevelopment, the College offered Mr. Durbin a financial incentive to continue through the rest of the academic year, closing sometime after graduation. This offer was made in December, and the announcement that the Grill would be closing was made in January.
Mr. Durbin has worked hard to provide a valuable service to the community, and we appreciate it. Despite the offer of a financial incentive by the College to continue operations, he decided this weekend to close immediately; the College received no official notice before the closing. On Saturday night, serious vandalism occurred, and as a result of the damage, there is no affordable option available to continue operations in the building for the remainder of the academic year.
The Grill building will come down, making the lot available to begin work on new construction in the village. Planning for this project has begun, and we will bring a detailed proposal to the Kenyon College Board of Trustees during its April meeting. We anticipate much activity during the next two-and-a-half years. New housing will rise on this lot, housing that, in the long term, will allow us to replace or to rebuild the aging New Apartments. Major changes to Farr Hall will occur. And new housing and retail options on Chase and Gaskin avenues will be built.
No immediate changes are planned for the Gambier Deli and the Village Market, and we are working closely with the owners of those businesses to anticipate the transitions ahead and to ensure both that their operations will continue throughout the project, with permanent homes for them when the work is done. In addition, a new bar/restaurant will be built. Neither the College nor its food services will run this establishment. We will find an independent owner/operator, as in the past. We believe a new facility will be far more attractive to new ownership than the Grill building is now.
The plan has always been to continue with a bar/restaurant – an operation independent of the College – located in the village and serving our students and community members. In the interim, we are looking at options for a late-night food/bar venue for students, perhaps in the Peirce Pub, in the next academic year. The Student Council Housing and Dining Committee is involved in these discussions, and Student Council representatives are involved in the planning for housing in the village.
We are pleased to inform the community as we learn more from the groups working on plans for housing and plans for an interim bar/restaurant.
[Ed. note: Details of this piece have been modified to better represent President Decatur’s statement.]