Diner backers detail food truck park alternative

Around-the-clock site could house dozen operators

The developers and owners of a would-be 24-hour restaurant in SoBro for which construction has stalled today outlined some details of a possible food truck park that could instead possibly operate around the clock on the site.

Speaking during a media event on the sidewalk catty-corner from the southeast corner of the Third Avenue South and Demonbreun Street where Avenue Diner was to rise, project leader Steve Smith said he hopes the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals will let him recommence construction soon. Should his appeal be denied, he will consider filling the hole, paving and fencing the site and renting spaces to up to a dozen food truck operators. (Earlier this week, Smith had spitballed the number of trucks at between six and eight.)

At this point, Smith (pictured) said his team is 30 to 60 days behind its original construction schedule. Smith added that, since paying $700,000 for the property last year, he has shelled out another $500,000 for architects, engineers and site workers. Building a food truck park featuring turf, picnic tables and signage would cost another $300,000, he estimated.

Smith, who owns Lower Broadway fixture Tootsie's as well as co-owns nearby Rippy's and Honky Tonk Central, said a busy food truck park could generate between $36,000 and $40,000 in rent a month and help him recover some of that spending.

“We’re looking for any way to cut our losses,” said Smith, who is teaming with Al Ross on the project.

The project has garnered headlines, in part, because many residents of downtown condominium tower Encore have expressed concern that Avenue Diner, like Smith’s honky-tonks, would offer live music that would not be contained within the building’s interior. Smith, Ross and their attorney, Ron Pursell, have countered by noting the diner would feature no music.

Smith and Ross will go before the BZA in early September to request a variance from the downtown code and that would allow construction to resume at the prominent site. Earlier this week, the Metro Development and Housing Agency Design Review Committee unanimously voted to disapprove alteration to the code so as to allow a new design for the diner building. (Read more here.) If Metro allows Smith and Ross to move forward, Avenue Diner would be patterned after Junior’s in New York City.

At the MDHA meeting, Smith and his team presented a design with the sidewalk at 12 feet, instead of the existing nine. The downtown code, according to MDHA, requires a sidewalk width range of 15 to 20 feet for new construction. To compensate for the lost square footage on the first floor due to a wider sidewalk, the team offered an image of the building with floors two through four cantilevered over the sidewalk.

The committee, which handles the approval of designs of projects planned for MDHA’s Rutledge Hill Redevelopment District, voted 7-0 to not alter the downtown code and allow a 12-foot-wide sidewalk.