Commission opting for Italian eatery over gallery





Calling it a tough decision, the Garden City Commission decided Tuesday to accept an offer to turn the old American Legion into an Italian restaurant and bar instead of a public art gallery.

Two proposals had come in over the last month for the building, located at 125 W. Pine St. Garden City Arts proposed buying the building for $1 and then renovating it into a public art gallery, and a client of local realtor Martin Nusser offered $10,000 for the building in order to turn it into an Italian restaurant.

Commissioner Melvin Dale said he liked both proposals, but favored the restaurant.

"This is a hard one. I can see both of these things. I certainly see the need for arts and training and classroom availability, but I can also see the restaurant coming in and being a major draw for downtown," Dale said. "If it's run by the right person, I think it will bring people downtown."

Commissioner Janet Doll called it a hard choice.

"We have an entity that is willing to invest a half-million dollars in our downtown, and I find that hard to turn down," Doll said.

In the end, the prospect of putting the building onto the tax rolls and generating both property and sales taxes was too enticing to ignore.

"I think the biggest issue is we've got one proposal that puts it on the tax rolls, sales tax is involved, and the other proposal doesn't," Mayor Dan Fankhauser said. "Both of them have merit."

Nusser, speaking on behalf of his client, Francesco Dorigo, said Dorigo and his partners plan to renovate the building into an upscale authentic Italian restaurant with a full bar and fine wine selection.

"They have experience in California, and came to Garden City and decided that building fit their concept of an Italian restaurant better than any other property," Nusser said. "It matches some of the programs downtown and the city has had as far as the needs for downtown — more restaurants, more activity, more foot traffic."

According to plans submitted to the city, the name of the eatery is Giardino Restaurant. Dorigo and another partner, Amadeo Grieco, have more than 50 years of combined experience in the restaurant management and culinary fields, according to information handed out at the commission meeting.

Nusser said Dorigo anticipates spending $500,000 or more to renovate the building, which will also generate sales tax revenue.

On a side note, Nusser said his client and his partners also are pursuing building more housing in the community.

"They're here to stay. They're here to work. They're here to spend money. They're here to help develop Garden City," Nusser said.

Renovation could take about three months and could start as soon as agreements are finalized with the city.

In response to commission questions, Nusser said his client wants to use a city lot across the street for parking, and no substantial changes would be made to the exterior of the building.

Representatives of Garden City Arts reiterated the benefits of turning the building into an art gallery, both to provide more space to offer arts education and as a legacy to the community that could stretch many years.

"We have had a gallery in downtown Garden City for 11 years. We have not only survived, we've thrived," Lara Bors, president of Garden City Arts, said. "We have added programs to our general programming. We just got done with Day of the Dead festival, and it was a huge success. We have the ability to move forward and make a difference in this community."

Bors raised concerns about traffic issues around the courthouse, a restaurant's impact on parking, and questioned whether the proposed restaurant would still be in business five to 10 years from now.

Garden City Arts offered to buy the building for $1 and renovate it into an art gallery in several phases at a cost of around $250,000. Representatives indicated the first phase would address initial ADA issues and that they would have the gallery open in three to six months.

When asked for input by the commission, Beverly Schmitz Glass, Downtown Vision executive director, said market studies of downtown in 2004 and 2008, as well as the recent downtown master plan, indicated strong support for increasing the number of restaurants and nightlife opportunities downtown.

Glass said Downtown Vision always has been an advocate for the arts as evidenced by the Banner Art program, activities in Stevens Park such as the concert series, and the addition of sculptures.

"It's always been our focus to get additional restaurants downtown because that draws not only locals, but can become a destination for those coming to our community from outside the area," she said.

Considering the "robust" big box retail development going on now, Glass said having an authentic Italian restaurant downtown would help remind people Garden City has a vibrant downtown and would certainly help marketing efforts.

While the commission approved the restaurant proposal in general, the decision won't become final until the proposed restaurant owners and the city work out details of the sale and any development agreement that goes with it.

From here, city staff will begin creating the necessary documents, and the council will take them up at a future meeting.

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