Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fight over John Wayne Airport restaurant fees

The restaurants and snack shops at John Wayne Airport's newest terminal must pay more than $500,000 in development fees that they had challenged as unexpected and unfair, under a ruling issued Thursday.

The fight over those fees delayed the opening of most restaurants in the airport's new Terminal C until after the Thanksgiving travel rush. Those restaurants have since opened, paying the fees under protest to the Transportation Corridor Agencies and hoping for a refund.

TCA directors voted 11-3 on Thursday to deny those appeals. The airport vendors said they were considering their options. TCA directors went into closed session during the meeting, citing significant exposure to litigation.

The fees, along with tolls, are used to pay off bonds that financed the construction of the San Joaquin Hills (73) toll road. The airport has been found to benefit from the toll road, so new airport development has to pay into an account.

But the vendors who won spots in Terminal C said the airport did not fully disclose those fees before they signed their contracts. They also disputed how the fees were calculated: Each restaurant had to pay not only based on its own space, but also on a share of public space such as the concourse, waiting areas and baggage claim.

In all, the terminal's vendors had challenged more than $660,000 in fees. The biggest share of that came from Host International, charged more than $430,000 for restaurants that include Zov's, Jerry's Wood-Fired Dogs and an Anaheim Ducks-themed bar and grill. The smallest share came from Vino Volo, a wine shop in Terminal B but charged about $12,000 for a storage area it has in Terminal C.

The toll road's board of directors concluded that the vendors had been properly required to pay the full fees. Board members Bill Campbell, Pat Bates and Gary Monahan cast the only votes supporting the vendors' appeal; Campbell and Bates are also on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and Monahan is the mayor of Costa Mesa.

"It's an egregious fee. It's terrible," said Josie Rietkerk, who owns Caterina's Candies and was charged nearly $29,000 for her spot in the new terminal. "There was no transparency. ... It severely limits our cash flow. Severely."

(Doug Irving - The Orange County Register)

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