GREEN: A group planning a gourmet restaurant, winery and other amenities within Southgate Park has pulled out of a deal with the city — but only for the moment, according to gourmet chef Kent Welsh of Table of Life LLC.
His comments came several hours after Mayor Dick Norton announced Wednesday that the deal had fallen apart because some of the Table of Life investors had withdrawn their support.
He said some investors had stated that estimated costs to renovate the site’s Belden Lodge and almost 8 acres of surrounding land surpassed original estimates.
Norton said several other entrepreneurs have shown similar interest in the property since the Welsh deal hadn’t been completed.
In a phone interview late Wednesday afternoon, however, Welsh said emphatically: “We’re doing this. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
He said there were several components to the pullout at this time, but he vowed that “we now are regrouping financially and looking forward to getting back into talks with the city at that site.”
“We have a lot of time and money invested in this plan, and we are coming to Green,” Welsh said.
“The city has been wonderful to us. They have been gracious to us, and they’ve been very cooperative. Service Director Randall Monteith has been a godsend.”
Welsh said the project “was way bigger than we thought once we began digging into it.”
He cited the problem of whether a wet area on the property is a wetland, adding that it could take up to a year for the Ohio EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to resolve.
He also noted that from April 14 through Sept. 30 “you can’t do any clearing [of land] due to the national migration of the Indiana brown bat at the site.”
Welsh said that despite those issues, “We believe the demographics of Green and the way the city is going makes this a great fit for us.”
He said 11 culinary arts school students are waiting to intern at The Table restaurant and 17 others are waiting to conduct weddings at the facility.
Welsh said that should the Belden Lodge site not be available when financing is arranged, he has at least one other Green site under consideration.
Norton confirmed Wednesday that two other potential buyers are interested in creating a restaurant/winery — Welsh’s initial proposal — at the site, while another is talking about converting the lodge into a banquet facility.
A fourth has visions of renovating the lodge into a residence and office, the mayor said.
On Jan. 8, City Council approved the Belden Lodge sale, noting that the city had agreed to finance the $600,000 sale price for the investors at a “very low” interest rate.
The city has owned the lodge since 2006, but had been unable to use the site for public purposes due to inability to comply with fire codes and Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
Cost to renovate the lodge was estimated in the range of $1 million. To maintain the vacant structure costs the city about $12,000 a month.
Reached Wednesday at his Stark County home, Fred Tuttle, an investor in the Welsh project and friend of the gourmet chef, said he felt a lot of the problem and final backing out of the project had to do with the time it took.
“We worked on it for over a year,” said Tuttle who voiced disappointment at the collapse. “At some point, I believe, it [the time] wore on some of the investors. And we weren’t aware of the wetlands issue [and cost to build a road without disturbing the wetlands].
“I devoted a lot of my efforts to the project; it’s very disappointing to me.”