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Old Coach house may become steakhouse

The group that bought the Fourth Street N property says it is talking with Outback.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- A group of investors has bought the long-vacant Bradford Coach House at 1900 Fourth St. N for $1.35-million and plans to renovate it for an Outback Steakhouse.

The 1900 Coach House Partners Inc. also plan to build nine to 11 townhomes behind the coach house on property facing Fifth Street N and Crescent Lake. The townhomes will be priced from $325,000 to $375,000, said architect John Bodziak of St. Petersburg, who is designing the project and representing the group in the permitting process.

The 2.7-acre property also includes room for another commercial venture across 19th Avenue N from the restaurant.

"We're in the midst of finalizing a lease" with Outback, Bodziak said. "We're very close with them. It's been going back and forth for months."

Vicki Loges of St. Petersburg, owner of the Fourth Street Shrimp Store, said she is the principal shareholder in the investment group. Bodziak's son, Jack C., also is one of the main investors.

Loges said the group hopes to get the contract with the steakhouse signed this week. The target opening date is September, she said.

Outback will not take all of the downstairs space, Loges said.

"We'd like to put art and antiques on the other side of downstairs," Loges said. Such a shop would have evening hours to give diners waiting to be seated a place to browse, she added. "It's one of the options we are considering."

Loges said offices will be located in the upstairs space.

Outback officials in Tampa confirmed that they were interested in a site on Fourth Street but did not mention specifically the Bradford Coach House location. They also said last week that a lease had not yet been signed.

"It will make the area cohesive," Loges said of the restoration of the Bradford property. Late last year, she bought and demolished two older buildings facing Fourth to increase parking at the shrimp store. She also recently purchased the building across from the shrimp store that contains Fancy's gourmet shop.

"It's pretty exciting for Fourth, especially south of 22nd Avenue (N)," she said. Improvements have been made on a number of properties in the area.

Bodziak said construction would start about the same time on the restaurant and townhomes if necessary permits and approvals are obtained. He estimated that could take from 90 to 120 days.

Some work already has begun inside the old restaurant, which was in pretty good shape until it was vandalized about six months ago, Bodziak said.

"It's taken two weeks to take the trash away," Bodziak said. Pottery stored in the building by the previous owners was smashed to bits, as were light fixtures.

Bodziak said the building facade will have a Mediterranean/mission look when it is rehabilitated.

The partners are asking the city to close 19th Avenue N for the project. In their application to the city, Bodziak said closing the avenue would keep traffic out of the Crescent Lake neighborhood and also would eliminate one more outlet on to busy Fourth Street N.

Closure of 18th Avenue N near Sunken Gardens and several alleys also are under consideration by the city. This means the possible loss of at least four exits off of Fourth Street N within an area of about 14 blocks.

Zoning official John Hixenbaugh said each request to close a street, avenue or alley is considered on an individual basis by the city. The application fee is $1,000.

"Generally, the only people who go forward are people" who have a good chance at approval, Hixenbaugh said. Those tend to be involved in redevelopment projects where a larger lot is needed.

"We have a lot of applications come forward that we tell people, "Don't follow through,' " because they won't be approved, Hixenbaugh said.

There are arguments that Fourth Street N will be more crowded south of 22nd Avenue N because there are fewer places to exit and because of increased traffic from the anticipated Outback Steakhouse. Hixenbaugh said there is just as strong an argument from residents of the area who like motorists having fewer exits off Fourth into their neighborhoods. (See related issue, Neighborhood Notebook, page xx.)

The board of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association met with Bodziak on Thursday night and voted to support the project, including the closure of 19th Avenue N, according to Clifford Holensworth, president.

"We want to keep that traffic pushed back back onto Fourth Street," Holensworth said. He emphasized that the neighborhood supports closing 19th Avenue in conjunction with the Outback/townhome project, not as a separate action.

Bodziak said the development can be done with 19th Avenue N open to traffic.

If the road remains open, "we'll have two blocks of townhomes, four on one side and five on the other," he said.

County property records list 1925 as the year the coach house was built. The Bradford family owned and operated it for 30 years. In 1990, they closed the restaurant, which was a popular meeting spot for civic groups because of its four banquet rooms. The St. Petersburg Yacht Club leased the property for a year and a half afterward while its downtown site was under renovation.

The Bradford property was bought in 1995 by Wah and Charlie Vuu, who said at the time that they planned to re-open it as a steakhouse. The 1900 Coach House Partners bought it from the Vuus.

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