Changes in the works for Union Street Station
Hooters heads out; Sushi bar to expand
Hooters is relocating to the student-heavy area of Archer Road and SW 34th Street.
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 10:49 p.m.
A popular - and sometimes embattled - eatery in Union Street Station in downtown Gainesville will make a move westward this spring.
Hooters, which is known not only for its wings but also for its athletically toned waitresses in tight tank tops and orange short-shorts, is relocating to the student-heavy area of Archer Road and SW 34th Street.
The downtown space won't remain vacant, though: Next-door neighbor Dragonfly Sushi and Sake is poised to expand into that space, much to the relief of sushi aficionados who have had to endure long waits for their smoked eel or kampyo.
"We knew Hooters would do better out on Archer Road, but we wanted to bring it downtown," part-owner Billy Scheel said. "We brought Mark's, Dragonfly Sushi and Sake and Starbucks down there, and made downtown what it is today. Now we'll just take (Hooters) someplace else."
That someplace else is the former Weazers Sports Bar and Grill at 3265 SW 34th St., which Scheel said has been closed for about 4-5 months.
Darin Clark, manager of Gainesville's Hooters, said "This is just a positive move all around. We'll draw more customers from the Archer Road/I-75 corridor. In my opinion, Hooters is definitely a destination place, not one you just happen to pop into on your way to the theater, for instance."
He said the new Hooters will have the same ambience, with open ceilings and a visible kitchen. The floor space is about the same, but the kitchen area will be slightly smaller and the outdoor seating larger. "This is a sports bar, it's noisy and fun," he said.
Dragonfly Sushi and Sake, located just east of Hooters in Union Street Station, will expand to fill the empty space.
Ray Leung, executive chef at Dragonfly and brother of co-owner Hiro Leung (the other co-owner is Song Kim), said Monday the expansion will be welcomed by the many regular customers. "On weekends, they often have an hour and a half to a two-hour wait" to enter and sample the handmade delicacies and enjoy libations at the full bar.
The current Dragonfly has about 2,700 square feet and a 100-person capacity. Moving into Hooters will double that.
"This (downtown) area seems more suited for the higher-end diners," Ray Leung mused, with Mark's U.S. Prime next door and the Sovereign across the street.
But sushi buffs who don't necessarily want to fight downtown traffic and lengthy waits have a handy alternative: Dragonfly Express, a scaled-back version, will open in an empty space right next to the new Hooters on SW 34th Street. It won't exactly be drive-through, he said, but will feature many of the favorites.
Scheel said renovations will get under way this month, with a March 1 target date for everyone's move. "We're trying to do it very smoothly, with no closings," he said.
The announcement five years ago that Hooters would anchor the northwest corner of the yet-to-be-finished Union Street Station met with some opposition, including from then-Gainesville City Commissioner and current Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan. At the time, she was quoted as saying, "The part that primarily concerns me is the fact that a lot of people find the business offensive, and it's going into a place benefiting from public financing. I would feel differently if it were in a building not partially financed with tax increment financing. I would feel differently about it if it were on Archer Road or somewhere else that is not trying to create unique characteristics."
Contacted Monday, Hanrahan expressed surprise and then delight at the news. "No more waiting at Dragonfly!" she laughed. "I'm excited about them expanding. I love to go there myself." However, she added, "Certainly, I am not happy to see businesses leave downtown. Plenty of folks who came to patronize (Hooters) might not have otherwise come downtown. But it's just not everyone's cup of tea."
She reminisced that her Hooters experience was "an interesting lesson for my public life. If I had to name five things that I was noticed for in my first six years of office that would be that. And I did not spend more than 5 minutes on the issue. I was just responding to some rumblings I had heard in the community, and from some professional women."
Linda McGurn who with her husband, Ken, developed Union Street Station and has an office there, said she is "thrilled with the expansion of Dragonfly. There's always this incredible wait. We have to wait 45 minutes just to get takeout.
"They're excited, we're excited, it's just great all around."
Scheel and partners own the condominiums where Mark's, Dragonfly and Hooters are, and Dragonfly will continue to lease from him. Scheel's partners in the New Horizons LLC are Louis Saig and Randy McCoy.
Cedar River Seafood and Oyster Bar on SW 13th Street is adding a second restaurant at the former Pizza Hut at 2230 NW 43rd St., next to Garden Gate Nursery.
Manager Robert Bolton said Monday that renovation is under way at the second location, and the restaurant hopes to open there by the middle of February.
The food and theme will be the same as the original, and the hours will be, too: lunch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Customers may dine onsite or order take-out.
The move to the northwest 43rd Street corridor is intended to satisfy the many customers "who come all the way over here. Now we'll be right at their back door," Bolton said.
The present building at 1621 SW 13th St. was originally built as a Lum's, which featured beer-steamed hot dogs served with sauerkraut and the Olliburger.
The Indiana-based chain closed most of its restaurants in the late 1970s.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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