It seems sudden. The International Institute of Culinary Arts, which includes the Abbey Grill and the Great Hall has closed its doors just weeks after finding out that the building is slated for public auction.
Honestly, we should have seen this coming. I've heard complaints over the last few years about the declining state of the service and food, always sure signs of a restaurant in trouble.
When George Karousos purchased the former Central Congregational Church in 1997, I was excited about what this could mean for Fall River. The idea of a culinary arts school seemed just the kind of high profile project that could generate some buzz for Fall River. I had high hopes for Karousos' endeavor and if it didn't instantly revitalize Fall River it did, for a long time, become a place that attracted outside attention. And it saved a piece of Fall River's history that seemed doomed from the wrecking ball.
What went wrong? Maybe it was Mrs. Karousos' passing away that started the school's decline? Perhaps the real estate boom was part of the problem? Mr Karousos purchased the former church for under $150,000 a decade latter it is valued at over a million dollars and the increase in real estate taxes must have been significant. Maybe the building itself is the problem and it's upkeep proved too much to handle. Perhaps it is a combination of all those things and more.
Whatever the reasons, why didn't the city recognize them. Karousos owes the city money in back taxes and money for police details related to the structural problems with the steeple. Why didn't they intervene? The Fall River Office of Economic Development couldn't offer any assistance, or at least refer Karousos to someone who could? Two years ago Senator Joan Menard referred the institute as our adopted treasure. Where's the effort now to save it?
I'm not saying that Fall River or the state should bailout the school but I would think some reasonable efforts would be appropriate for an "adopted treasure". What resources already exist that could have and still be used to help the Institute? Right now the Mayor or his representatives could be sitting down with the school and the bank to try to work out an agreement. Menard, Kerry, Kennedy and the rest could be looking for available funds or loans that would allow the buildings problems to be resolved.
It's shameful if these things don't happen, because the school still represents something exciting in Fall River.
How do we save the Abbey Grill?
The first option has got be to work with Karousos. I've outlined the basics above. The city needs to step in to negotiate more time and offer whatever resources may be available. Meanwhile our elected officials need to work to find what resources are available to assist. However, we can't overlook that part of the Institutes' problems may be Karousos himself.
If that's the case what can we do to secure the buildings preservation? Over a decade ago it was a citizens group that saved the building and allowed Karousos to buy it. However now the building is worth 10 times as much. How could they raise that kind of money? Perhaps we should reach out to Aerosmith! The band filmed parts of the video for the song Cryin' there in 1993. Maybe they could donate some money or mobilize their fan base to assist.
Maybe Fall River's own Emeril Lagasse could be persuaded to help. Certainly if Emeril were to partner with, or purchase the Institute it would generate a great deal of positive press. Emeril's name would add credibility and bring people into the city to dine at the Abbey Grill. Even if Emeril never taught a class his name could mean success. Perhaps Emeril could visit the city a few times a year and do public demonstrations or even film a few episodes of his cooking show from the the cooking school!
Okay maybe those suggestions are far-fetched but hey, anything is worth a try!
If there is anyway to save the Abbey Grill, we better do it soon before we let another piece of Fall River history slip away.