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So why are restaurant chains reluctant about the Boro?

    Last week, the Statesboro Herald ran a poll on its website asking "Which restaurant chain would you like to see open in Statesboro?" The results, printed in this past Friday's paper, listed the Olive Garden as receiving the most votes, Red Lobster in second, and Outback and Hooters tied for third.
    A large number of readers voted in the poll which is consistent with this community's tremendous interest in new restaurants opening in our area. Looking at the number of respondents, I began to ponder.
    Commercial and residential development on the Statesboro Bypass, between Northside Drive and Highway 301 South, is booming. Yet, the Shell House restaurant location remains empty and unsold, and people in this area are, please don't be offended, "nuts" about their restaurants.
    Surely, given local residents' unabashed loved for their eateries, another restaurant chain or independent should be interested in that location. But yet, it remains empty. To find out the status of the property, I called the real estate broker contracted to sell it, W. H. Johnson, III.
    In a very candid conversation, Johnson, the owner of W. H. Johnson Realty, Inc. in Savannah, was up front about the property and said there really is no mystique as to why it remains on the market.
    "We had a number of people interested in leasing the facility, but the owners are not," Johnson said. "From the beginning they wanted to sell it, and that is what we have been trying to do."
    Johnson said a deal to sell the property had been negotiated at the latter part of last year.    
    "Just about a year ago we were in the process of negotiating the sale of the property to a franchise group of a major restaurant chain," he said. "Unfortunately, it was during the time when there was such a fuss about the alcohol ordinance in the city of Statesboro."
    "When the changes to the alcohol ordinance were announced regarding happy hour, no more than one drink per patron at a time on the table, and the inability of a restaurant serving alcohol to change their planned seating by placing tables together, the parent company/franchisor said they would not grant a franchise for that location due to what they felt were unreasonable restrictions that had been put in place," he said.
    "The reality is, for any person who buys that location, they will have $2.5 million or more in the deal," Johnson said. "Developers and franchisees just aren't willing to risk that much in what they consider to be a volatile business environment. At any moment, the rules could change again, and what would those new rules be? That is the message that investors heard."
    Johnson said when the national company decided not to franchise in Statesboro it "put a chill down a lot of restaurant brokers' backs regarding the Statesboro market."
    "When other brokers heard that the company pulled out of the Shell House deal, that raised a red flag," he said. "The reverberations from that will be felt a long time in the development community. I don't know that the people of Statesboro will ever understand what an impact that had."
    Johnson said he knows that eventually the "wall will crack", and  well known restaurant chains will again decide to build in Statesboro. "It's as if they are all looking at one another waiting for someone to make the first move," he said. "Right now, they feel like it is a risk, but once one bites off, I imagine the rest will follow. Hopefully, that will be much sooner than later."
 
    Until next week, I bid adieu.
    Got a scoop for Jan? Call her at (912) 489-9463 or e-mail her at jmoore@statesboroherald.net

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