Odette’s plan has applause

The famous nightspot couldn’t survive three floods in two years.

By Linda Seida, Staff Writer
   NEW HOPE — An Upper Makefield innkeeper plans to restore Odette’s and the surrounding canal area and transform them into a featured gateway at the borough’s southern entrance.
   Michael Amery’s presentation to the Borough Council on Sept. 19 drew applause from residents and officials alike and even the family of a former owner.
   ”We’re behind you,” Vice President Sharyn Keiser said. “The community’s behind you.”
   She called the plan “very impressive.”
   Odette’s, housed in a 1794 building beside the Delaware and Raritan Canal, has long been a favorite nightspot along the Delaware River. But three floods in less than two years finally were too much for the entertainment venue that was revitalized as a hotel in the 1930s and closed June 2006.
   Mr. Amery, who owns the Inn of Bowman’s Hill, said he plans to elevate the building 11½ feet and use the area beneath for parking. The building now sits 5 feet lower than the road on an island created when the canal was built. It is surrounded by state property.
   Mr. Amery also plans to construct a deck running the length of the building, a conference center, a 12-room inn, an English-style tavern, a cabaret and a manager’s apartment.
   Separate from Odette’s restoration, but related, is a plan to restore a portion of the canal at the south end of town, cleaning out the fill, replacing two access bridges and extending the towpath to South Main Street. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources already has committed $1.5 million to the restoration, Mr. Amery said.
   Odette’s itself is in “urgent need of preservation,” Mr. Amery said.
   The unfinished basement suffered major damage from the floods. The cedar shake roof also would be restored.
   Zoning will be an exceptional challenge because of the number of agencies that must be consulted because of the canal, its state ownership and the proximity of the river. Mr. Amery ticked off no fewer than nine local, state and federal agencies.
   ”One voice could hang it up,” Mr. Amery said.
   ”There are going to be a lot of dots that need to be connected,” Mayor Laurence Keller said.
   Mr. Amery estimated it could take 2½ years to complete “if everything goes well.”
   Mayor Keller said the restoration would have “an absolutely enormous impact” on the town.
   Councilwoman Geri Delevich said it is “refreshing” to have someone care passionately about the town and its history.
   ”You’re like my hero right now, Michael,” she said.
   Councilman Ed Duffy said, “There is nothing we could do but fully support Michael’s efforts.”
   In early years, the restaurant was called the River House. Odette Myrtil Logan purchased it in 1961 and christened it Chez Odette. A Parisian by birth but a Bucks County resident by choice, the entertainer had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies and on Broadway in “South Pacific” as Bloody Mary.
   The establishment built a reputation for fine food and flair, but a fatal accident in 1983, five years after Odette sold it, is a dark spot in its history.
   NBC newswoman Jessica Savitch and New York Post executive Martin Fischbein died after leaving the restaurant when they took a wrong turn out of the lot, into the canal. The couple and Ms. Savitch’s dog drowned.
   Ms. Savitch’s estate reached an $8.125 million wrongful death settlement with the New York Post, Chez Odette restaurant, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Mr. Fischbein’s estate.
   Today, the site is owned by Tom Scannapieco, who has an agreement of sale with Mr. Amery.