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Macaroni Grill adds feather to mall's cap

The restaurant chain is scheduled to open it's first St. Petersburg outlet on Tyrone Boulevard in March.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Tyrone Square Mall is the site for the city's first Romano's Macaroni Grill, which will be located on the northeast corner of the Sears parking lot.

Plans call for the 260- to 270-seat restaurant at 2300 Tyrone Blvd. to be open by mid-March.

It will be the national chain's first outlet in St. Petersburg. Macaroni Grills in Clearwater, Tampa and Brandon are among the chain's 165 restaurants featuring Italian food served in what the chain calls a festive, family atmosphere. Carrollwood had one that was destroyed recently by fire and will be rebuilt by Brinker International, the Texas-based company that owns the restaurants.

The St. Petersburg City Council approved the restaurant site on the staff's recommendation and over objections of the Jungle Terrace Civic Association and the Crossroads Neighborhood Association. They objected to a variance granted by the Environmental Development Commission that allows fewer parking spaces than codes require. Jungle Terrace also asked for more green space to be included in the parking lot.

Steve Plice, head of the Jungle association, said objections were not about the restaurant itself but rather over how the variance was granted without following rules set forth in city codes for granting the exceptions.

In studying the parking, it was discovered that Sears has had some 250 fewer parking spaces than required since it was built in 1967. The staff told the council that adequate parking for a new restaurant was available and the objections were overruled.

Sears, which is owned separately than the rest of the mall, is lagging behind improvements made recently to the rest of the Tyrone Square Mall, according to the staff. A new entrance to the mall, a Borders bookstore, an expanded food court and a Tia's Tex-Mex Restaurant were built in the past few years.

Brinker agreed to do substantial landscaping in the Macaroni Grill parking lot to improve its appearance.

"Presently the Sears site has a substantial lack of interior parking lot landscaping, and the existing landscaping is poorly maintained, declining or dead," the staff's report to the City Council said.

"A new restaurant with contemporary landscaping, one that is at the top of national formula restaurants, would substantially upgrade the city's regional shopping destination," the staff's report said.

"This was one corner in the triangle that was lacking for Macaroni Grill," said company spokesman Tim Smith, referring to St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa. "We are excited about getting a restaurant into St. Petersburg."

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