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Mini golf course filled spot on Erie’s bayfront for 19 years. It is suing over its demise

In World
June 11, 2024

The owners of a former miniature golf course on Erie’s bayfront are taking a swing in court at the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority.

The owners are suing the Port Authority over claims that the public agency wrongly breached its contract with their Harbor View Miniature Golf.

The breach, the owners claim, caused the course to close in June 2021, in its 19th year of business. It was located on authority-owned land in the area of Wolverine Park Marina, on the west side of State Street just north of the intersection with the Bayfront Parkway.

The authority’s decision to build an access road in the area forced Harbor View Miniature Golf to stop operating on the site. It never reopened.

Harbor View Miniature Golf on State Street in Erie closed in June 2021 after the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority canceled its lease. The course had operated for about 19 years.

Harbor View Miniature Golf on State Street in Erie closed in June 2021 after the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority canceled its lease. The course had operated for about 19 years.

Harbor View’s owners, Tom and Teresa Stankiewicz, are arguing that the Port Authority breached the contract by failing to select other options for the access road “that would not have required the Port Authority to force Harborview off of the Premises,” according to the suit, filed in Erie County Common Pleas Court on Thursday.

The two-count suit also claims the Port Authority reneged on a promise to relocate the 18-hole mini golf course to the authority’s Liberty Park, further west on the bayfront.

The suit seeks unspecified damages in an amount higher than $75,000. Erie County Judge Daniel Brabender is assigned the case.

An access road and a dispute over mini golf

The executive director of the Port Authority since May 1, Julie Slomksi, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The authority will get a chance to respond to the suit in court. The Port Authority’s executive director was Brenda Sandberg at the time of the the dispute with the Stankiewiczes.

The Stankiewiczes, who are married, are the plaintiffs along with their business, Harborview Miniature Golf Inc., also known as Harbor View Miniature Golf. The suit names as defendants the Port Authority and 15 unnamed “John Doe” defendants, described as others who “acted in concert with the Port Authority.”

The Stankiewiczes signed a 15-year lease with the Port Authority for the operation of Harbor View Miniature Golf in 2000, and the course opened two years later. In July 2015, couple and the authority extended the lease for another 15 years. The base rent was $10,000 a year, according to the lease, which is attached to the suit.

An access road and parking lot now take up the area that had been the site of Harbor View Miniature Golf near the Wolverine Park Marina on Erie's west bayfront.

An access road and parking lot now take up the area that had been the site of Harbor View Miniature Golf near the Wolverine Park Marina on Erie’s west bayfront.

The suit acknowledges that the lease allowed the Port Authority to terminate the agreement if the authority “requires the Leased Premises for development or for a superior or more impelling public purpose.” The authority cited that clause in canceling the lease, according to the suit.

The Stankiewiczes’ suit rejects assertion that the access road — designed to connect developments along the west bayfront — represented “a superior or more impelling public purpose” than a mini golf course. They are also claiming that the authority did not “require” the site of the mini golf course for development because the authority could have picked at least two other options for the access road that would have spared the course.

Lease obligations and dissatisfaction

The early termination of the lease did require the Port Authority to provide financial compensation to the Stankiewiczes, according to the lease.

The lease obligated the Port Authority to pay the Stankiewiczes $166,800, or about two-thirds of how much they spent to build the original course, Sandberg, the authority’s executive director at time, told the Times-News in June 2021, days before Harbor View closed.

Teresa Stankiewicz and her husband, Tom, owned and operated Harbor View Miniature Golf on Erie's west bayfront for about 19 years, until June 2021.

Teresa Stankiewicz and her husband, Tom, owned and operated Harbor View Miniature Golf on Erie’s west bayfront for about 19 years, until June 2021.

In the same article, Tom Stankiewicz said the Port Authority is “doing what they’re legally obligated to do” in the lease agreement, but nothing more.

The Stankiewiczes demanded that the Port Authority pay them $692,000 for the cost of relocating their business to Liberty Park, according to a letter their then-lawyer sent to the authority in September 2020. The authority responded that it was not able to use public funds “to fully subsidize a private development.”

The lawsuit seeks damages related to the claimed breach of the lease and what the suit contends was the Port Authority’s refusal to relocate Harbor View Miniature Golf to Liberty Park “as promised.”

A business that was designed for fun

The Stankiewiczes’ lawyer for the lawsuit, Lindsey Sacher, of Cleveland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Teresa Stankiewicz, who is the elected controller for the city of Erie, nor did Tom Stankiewicz, who is a retired Erie police officer.

In the interview in June 2021, Tom Stankiewicz predicted that cost of building a new course would be too high for Harbor View to relocate and reopen elsewhere. The bayfront still has a mini golf course — one the Erie-based Scott Enterprises opened on land it owns on the east bayfront in May 2023.

Tom Stankiewicz said running Harbor View had been a joy.

“Anytime you have a business where people come and have fun, it’s great because there’s never any problems, or they’re very rare I should say,” he said in June 2021. “How many businesses can say that for every customer who comes in?”

Contact Ed Palattella at epalattella@timesnews.com or 814-870-1813. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Ex-mini golf course on Erie’s bayfront sues Port Authority over lease

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