BAINBRIDGE — With the demolition of the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant having been completed this past spring, plans are underway for a popular coffeehouse and Mexican fast-food chain, each with their own drive-thru, at the Marketplace at Four Corners site.
The matter was discussed during a township trustees meeting on Monday.
Previously, the 1.66-acre property at 7135 Aurora Road (State Route 43), was anticipated to house a Starbucks and a Chipotle Mexican Grill in addition to other potential undetermined tenants in a 7,500-square-foot strip. This is no longer the case, however, with new plans, as proposed by representatives from the Morgan Companies, a Charlotte, North Carolina real estate agency.
“As opposed to one freestanding building, we are now looking to do two smaller freestanding buildings with drive-thrus,” John Wilson, director of development for the Morgan Companies, said, explaining that the two proposed food chains would have their own building, parking lots and drive-thru queue.
Starbucks is still interested in the site, he said, but instead of Chipotle, which switched to the location of the former Steak ‘n’ Shake restaurant at 7020 N. Aurora Road, a Taco Bell is proposed. The site of the former 5,700-square-foot Ruby Tuesday will include an approximate 2,016-square-foot Starbucks and a 2,049-square-foot Taco Bell, according to the site plans, reducing the lot coverage from 65 percent to 62 percent, Mr. Wilson explained.
Mr. Wilson noted that the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping activities from day-to-day, especially from a business standpoint. “Obviously, with everything going on, along with the drive-thru, outdoor seating and places for people to socially distance have become every bit as important as well.”
He noted Starbucks’ design has an emphasis on outdoor seating and space to allow social distancing in addition to the drive-thru.
Jim “JP” Ptacek of Larsen Architects, Inc., highlighted Taco Bell’s warm grays that will blend in with surrounding structures, describing the building to be a “quieted down” version of the fast-food chain with a “more residential character.”
Trustee Jeff Markley said he had no issues from the architectural standpoint of the plan and noted adjustments made to ensure the safety of patrons in the outdoor area with reinforced walls between the seating and the parking lot.
Trustee Lorrie Sass Benza and Mr. Markley both pointed out significant concern about adding two drive-thrus in an already well-trafficked shopping district.
Scott Friedman, vice president of project management for the Morgan Companies, said the tenants themselves may actually help mitigate any potential traffic concerns.
“We somewhat inherited two very complimentary users,” Mr. Friedman said, explaining that this could help break up traffic congestion in the area with the chains having different busy hours. “When we started looking at traffic and queuing, Starbucks is obviously most busy in the early hours and then on the drive home. Whereas Taco Bell is a more traditional lunch and dinner crowd.”
He added that both Starbucks and their competitor Dunkin’ Donuts have plans for additional units in the area to balance demand, which should in turn ease traffic congestion.
Juleen Russell, business development director from Jencen Architecture of Cleveland, added that the structures both have more than enough parking, so future plans could incorporate an expanded drive-thru queue lane to prevent the risk of vehicles spilling into the marketplace or Aurora Road.
Mr. Markley asked if either of the businesses are considering double drive-thru lanes, similar to a nearby Chick-fil-A in Solon.
Mr. Wilson said that is not something Starbucks would be able to incorporate.
Maggie Georgilas, director of real estate with Pacific Bells, Inc., added that Taco Bell is in the preliminary stages of exploring this, but such an option would not be ready for this location.
Mrs. Benza also noted the site plans included a proposed lot split. Trustees would need to consult with Zoning Inspector Karen Endres, she said, about zoning codes related to creating two new lots in that space.
Mr. Friedman pointed out that the lot splits are included for future, long-term planning, but would not be necessary to move forward with the project initially.
Next steps, Mr. Markley said, for the project would be for the entities to “go offline” with planning discussions with Mrs. Endres’ office to finalize architectural speculations for the trustees’ approval.