Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Knowles Restaurants family recently signed a new long-term lease agreement to enable the Highlawn Pavilion to continue operating in Essex County Eagle Rock Reservation.
“We’re proud to have been selected by Essex County to continue our legacy of service to the community,” said Harry Knowles, patriarch of the Knowles Restaurants family.
The County first entered into a relationship with the Knowles family in 1984 to preserve and redevelop the historic casino building into a fine dining restaurant.
“We are pleased to be continuing our relationship with the Knowles family to operate the Highlawn Pavilion in Essex County Eagle Rock Reservation,” DiVincenzo said in a press release. “Thirty years ago, the Knowles family redeveloped the Reservation’s old Casino building and has earned the reputation of providing high quality service and a first-class dining experience for their patrons. The natural beauty of Eagle Rock Reservation and the unmatched view of the New York skyline are complemented by this culinary landmark."
Even though the original 1984 agreement is scheduled to expire in September 2014, the County Executive started the process of selecting the next tenant for the building in 2012 so that all options could be explored, interested restaurateurs would have ample time to develop proposals and a seamless transition to the new contract could be planned.
Joseph Parlavecchio was a member of the Board of Freeholders when the first agreement with the Knowles family was signed.
“This was an empty building strewn with garbage. We knew the Knowles family would do Essex County justice with a first class operation. Here we are 30 years later and this has become a destination,” he said.
Three restaurateurs showed interest and the Highlawn Pavilion was selected after a thorough review of the proposals by County officials and representatives from the Essex County Improvement Authority, which acted as the County’s broker in the process. The resolution extending the lease for the Highlawn Pavilion was approved by the Board of Chosen Freeholders on December 19, 2012.
“This is a special place. There are so many good things happening that go unnoticed, but our County Executive never loses his focus on getting things done,” Freeholder Brendan Gill said.
The new contract will go into effect on September 15, 2014, and is for 20 years with two five-year options that could extend it to 30 years. Over the course of the first 20 years, Highlawn Pavilion will pay the County an annual rent of $400,000. The rent increases to $416,000 per year in the first five-year option (from the years 2035 to 2039) and to $432,640 per year in the second five-year option (from the years 2040-2044).