By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
For years, the chant out Hermitage way has been: When is an Olive Garden coming?
Apparently there are more cowboys than Italians in the area as Darden Restaurants has announced it plans to build a LongHorn Steakhouse on South Hermitage Road – on the spot it initially had planned to build an Olive Garden.
Why the change?
Brett Mashchak, site development manager for Darden, said Wednesday after the Hermitage commissioners’ meeting that he is not authorized to talk to the media.
City resident Cynthia Alexander asked city officials if plans for an Olive Garden are dead.
“The last conversation I had was there still is a chance an Olive Garden will come to this area,” City Manager Gary P. Hinkson said.
Levey and Co. of Akron, the company developing retail property on which a Kohl’s’ department store already stands, had introduced the Olive Garden plans in October, but Darden said in January it would not build the Italian eatery.
Levey said in May a plan for an Olive Garden was not dead, but approached city officials Friday and asked if the already approved Olive Garden plan could be renamed for LongHorn.
City staff and legal counsel reviewed the plan and concluded that the only difference from the Olive Garden plan was that the LongHorn building will be slightly smaller than the Olive Garden building at a proposed 6,242 square feet instead of 7,659 square feet, Hinkson said.
Parking, stormwater management and road access would all be the same, he said.
Instead of making Levey go back through the planning process, with reviews by the city and county planning commissions before city commissioners take action, city officials determined the commissioners could approve a plan amendment, which they did Wednesday.
“They really want to get it moving,” Hinkson said of Levey.
Commissioners recently approved plans to build a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on the development, with construction of both eateries expected to begin this year.
Resident Diane Cyphert noted it has been a year since city and county commissioners and Hermitage School Board approved a tax-incremental financing plan that allows Levey to divert 69 percent of new property taxes for 20 years to pay for road and other public improvements on the site.
She said economic development officials predicted the development would generate $1 billion in economic impact and numerous permanent and construction jobs.
Cyphert said that she sees a lot of dirt and mud, and weeds on the former McDonald’s property, which Levey is buying.
“Where are we at today, one year later, on the $1 billion impact on our community?” Cyphert asked.
“We are monitoring very closely the creation of jobs, and the number of construction jobs in the development,” Hinkson said, although he did not have those figures with him.
Kohl’s advertised before it opened that it needed to fill 105 positions.
Officials also are tracking peripheral development, such as the redevelopment of Pizza Hut and the building of a Speedway gas station, which commissioners recently approved.