Construction halted on new downtown diner over sidewalk width

Construction halted on new downtown diner over sidewalk width (Image 1)

Construction on a new 24-hour restaurant has been halted until a decision is made on how wide the sidewalk around the business will be to meet MDHA requirements.

The Diner would be a four- level restaurant serving food 24-hours a day at the corner of Demonbreun and Third Avenue South.

The restaurant is being opened by the owners of Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Rippy’s Bar and Grill and Honky Tonk Central on Broadway.

However, The Diner will not be a honky tonk, nor will it feature live music, according to General Manager Jonathon Scott who is helping with the design and layout of the restaurant.

“I was super excited. It was right in my wheel house,” he said. “I am a food guy. I worked at The Palm and Steakhouse for the majority of my career, so I was excited to have the chance to be a part of the 24-hour diner.”

Owners of The Diner told News 2 during construction, NES required the builders to construct an underground vault to house transformers.

During construction of the vault, the walls of the building became unstable and the crew demolished them. That meant the majority of the building was demolished and changed how Metro classified the construction project.

Initially, the owners planned to keep more than 50% of the existing structure, so the city classified the project as a remodel.

Once the majority of the building was gone, the city then classified the building project as new construction. That then gave MDHA jurisdiction over the project because MDHA oversees the Rutledge Hill Redevelopment District where The Diner would be located.

MDHA told the owners they needed to widen the sidewalks surrounding the business to 12 feet. The owners paid to have the building redesigned to meet that requirement, but they ran into a roadblock after Metro’s Zoning Office said public works may want to widen Demonbreun in the future.

That would mean the sidewalk would need to be even wider so there would still be a wide sidewalk for pedestrian traffic in case that happened.

The owners would have to then redesign their structure again and lose more square footage on the first floor because the development is surrounded by a separate development that would not allow the building to be shifted back to the required feet to keep its same square footage.

“The ownership feels like they are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Steve Meisner, attorney for The Diner’s owners said. “We want to do and we feel like we have done everything they have asked us to do. The question now is, will they approve the new plans?”

The owners are set to present their plans to MDHA’s Design Review Committee on August 4.

“Everyday that we are not working we lose time from opening business,” Meisner said. “That’s business loss; that is a loss of employing people and it is a loss of generating tax revenue for the city.”

The owners are also petitioning the Zoning Board of Appeals to allow the building to remain the way it is with the previous footprint.

“Obviously, we are committed to finding a solution,” Craig Owensby with Metro Zoning said. “It is an important commercial area that is very important to our city.”

The hearing in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals is set for September 4. If MDHA approves the redesign, construction may be able to resume next week. If not, it may be September before it can resume.

That worries Scott because he hoped to have The Diner open by spring.

“To drive by and see no work going on is a tough pill to swallow, to be honest,” he said. “It is just disappointing. I wish there was some resolve to this so we could get back to building a 24 hour diner.”

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