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Tuesday, 12 October 2021 20:36

City outlines concept for former Food King property in downtown Rockingham

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This rendering shows one concept for the former Food King property, splitting the space for three tenants. This rendering shows one concept for the former Food King property, splitting the space for three tenants. City of Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM — City leaders are looking at dividing the former Food King property downtown to bring in new businesses.

One concept, presented by Assistant City Manager and City Planner John Massey during Tuesday's City Council meeting, shows a space for a restaurant on the end near the parking lot, with space for an outdoor patio, as well as two other storefronts on the west side of the building.

“We’ve had quite a bit of interest in this project,” Massey said, adding that part of it has been as a result of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce’s weekly Downtown Getdown events, which bring food trucks to the property’s parking lot on Mondays. 

The City Council approved the $60,000 purchase of the property in February of 2018.

City Manager Monty Crump said that there had been two serious inquiries within the past week.

Massey said it has been difficult to find a single potential tenant to occupy the 10,000 square-foot space, so the city asked the architect to divide the property.

Crump said the original owner was approached about bringing a grocery store back to downtown, but the owner wasn’t interested due to current market conditions.

The proposed restaurant space would be around 4,000 square feet. The other two spaces would be around 2,500 square feet, each.

As a comparison, Pattan’s Downtown Grille, which the city built in 2014-2015, is a little more than 3,000 square feet and Crump said that wasn’t enough space. Massey added, however, that there wasn’t a lot more room to work with.

City Attorney Benny Sharpe said that he could see a mom and pop pizza restaurant doing well in that space, with its proximity to Discovery Place Kids, Richmond Community College’s downtown campus and Bold Moves Dance Studio.

The cost of repairs and upfitting utilities is estimated to cost $2.5-3 million, Massey said, adding that there are only few existing buildings in the area that don’t require major renovations and most small business owners can’t afford that high of a price tag.

Both Massey and Crump stressed that the three-tenant proposal is just one concept for the use of the property.

“This could change,” Crump said, adding that it could be split into two properties or even one. “I doubt it, based on what we’re hearing.”

Crump said they are still waiting to see if the city will receive the $300,000 — proposed by Rep. Ben Moss — from the state budget. He added the city still has some funds from the American Rescue Plan as well as the Urban Development Action Grant.

“When we can nail down a more definitive project budget with cash that we know we’ve got out there … we’ll know at that point what we need to do to approach the two foundations for additional funding,” Crump said. 

Crump added that the use of low-interest loans and grants have allowed the city to alter market conditions to make opening and operating a business downtown more affordable.

Mayor Steve Morris said he was sure the Cole Foundation and the Richmond Community Foundation would “be delighted to work with us on this.”

Morris also commended the council for “sticking their neck out” on several projects in recent years that “turned out to be great investments” for the community.

Improvements on the parking lot started in the fall of 2019, but work came to a halt amid the double-whammy of the COVID pandemic and the county’s decision to change the sales tax allocation distribution method.

“We weren’t sure about the financial situation,” Massey said.

The city had completed some landscaping and lighting improvements and Massey said more landscaping, along with resurfacing and restriping the parking lot should begin within the next few weeks.

Massey added that members of the city’s Planning Board suggested providing outlets to cut back on the food truck operators’ reliability on noisy generators.

“There is a fairly easy way to do that because we have meter base … that provides power to all the .. lights in the trees, so we’re going to go in and make some accommodations for outlets that are large enough to power some … of the food trucks … and make that experience a little more pleasurable because you don’t have the loud generators operating,” Massey said.

In addition to the aforementioned patio space, Massey said the city has been in conversations with the owner of Bold Moves for a landscape easement to extend the design to the corner with S. Lawrence Street.

Massey said the hope is to have that completed by the end of the year.

“Hopefully, we can get this resolved pretty quickly,” Crump said.

Concept of the floor plan, splitting the former Food King property into three spaces.

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 October 2021 20:50
William R. Toler

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