Monday, September 6, 2010

Developer has vision for Gilbert site

A Scottsdale-based developer's vision for the former GrainBelt building in downtown Gilbert would bring three new restaurants to the troubled corner and give it a face-lift.

The proposal includes splitting the vacant structure in half to allow two restaurants to share the space. At 6,200 square feet, the building's cavernous size has made it difficult for other restaurants to succeed, new owner Mike Bennan said.

"It's quite big in today's world for restaurants," Bennan said. "I think that may be one of the reasons why it's had such difficulty over the last couple of years."

The building's first occupant, Mahogany Run, opened in 1998 and was Gilbert's first upscale restaurant. It lasted three years.

Since May 2003, four more restaurants have opened and closed in the building, which has sat vacant since GrainBelt GrillHouse shut down in June 2008.

A foreclosure auction in January failed to produce even one bid, and Zions First National Bank instead repossessed the building on the northwestern corner of Gilbert Road and Page Avenue. About two months ago, Oakmark Development, in partnership with San Diego developer PacVentures, purchased the building.

Oakmark owner Bennan said he is working to bring tenants on board.

While two distinct restaurants would share the former GrainBelt building, a third restaurant would come later with the construction of a 4,000-square-foot building to the north, near Oregano's Pizza Bistro.

"This is all kind of a work in progress right now. We do not have an existing tenant that we're working with," Bennan said. "We're talking to several tenants about the building; there's been a pretty significant amount of interest."

There are several flourishing businesses in the downtown Heritage District, and the former GrainBelt building is flanked on three sides by highly successful, popular restaurants:

• Directly to the east, Joe's Real BBQ opened the same year as Mahogany Run and often attracts large crowds and long lines that extend out the doors and onto the sidewalk.

• To the north, Oregano's customers often have to wait 45 minutes to two hours for a table on Friday or Saturday nights.

• And to the south, Liberty Market opened in fall 2008 and attracts groups from around the Valley as well as local residents.

"What originally got me interested in this project was a lot of the success that you've already had downtown in the Heritage District," Bennan told the Redevelopment Commission at a recent meeting.

The new ownership plans to make some aesthetic and structural changes to the building to resolve some of the issues that have plagued the site.

It plans to add a brick veneer to the building and to enlarge the windows, which are too small, Bennan said.

"Obviously today it's a pretty imposing building; it doesn't really want to let you in," Bennan said. "We want to open up the building as much as possible so you can almost see through it as you're driving by."

The former entrance would be abandoned and two new entrances created on the building's northern and southern ends. A restaurant on the southern side would likely get about 2,500 square feet of indoor space and an enlarged outdoor patio, and the north would include about 3,700 square feet, Bennan said.

The proposed changes came as a welcome sign of life to the Redevelopment Commission, which oversees development activity within the Heritage District.

"Right now the building looks so dark," said Commissioner Mary Ellen Fresquez, who owns an art gallery in the Heritage District. "I've been downtown for 12 years, so I've had a lot of customers kind of call it 'the mausoleum.'

"But it looks so different - I think that's the key to having people look at it in a different light. It's going to give it a new life."

Commissioner Gene Valentine said Bennan's concept is "the best economic model I've seen for this building since it was built."

"Splitting it into two, I think you're right on with that approach."

The concept also drew the attention of two local restaurant owners who attended the commission meeting: co-owner Tad Peelan of Joe's Real BBQ and Romeo Taus, owner of Romeo's Euro Café.

"I just want to publicly say how excited we are that a developer with some great ideas has something vibrant and exciting planned for downtown Gilbert," Peelan said.

by Parker Leavitt The Arizona Republic Aug. 30, 2010 04:36 PM

Developer has vision for Gilbert site

Real Estate News

HootSuite - Social Media Dashboard