Ocean Buffet

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to reader-submitted questions through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.

ONTARIO -- Ontario zoning inspector Adam Gongwer provided some insight recently about what’s happening -- or no longer happening -- at the former Ocean Buffet property.

The currently vacant restaurant, located at 994 Lexington-Springmill Rd., was expected to be demolished by the end of 2018, so an 11,232 square-foot strip mall, called Lexington Pointe, could be constructed in its place. That structure was targeted for completed by the first or second quarter of 2019, with tenants like Five Guys and Panda Express, according to a representative of Thomas English Retail Real Estate.

However, going into March, Gongwer still hasn’t received a demolition permit for the property, let alone the permits needed for the new building and tenants.

Part of the delay can be chalked up to a transition in developers, he said. The initial developer has backed out of the project, and another stepped up. Still there’s nothing from Gongwer’s perspective to further delay the demolition.

“The new developer is still deciding if they should do two buildings or one long building, but I told the guys they can demolish the (existing) building,” Gongwer said.

At this point, the new developer, a company associated with Panda Express, is in its earliest stages. Gongwer has seen site plans and signage permits for Panda Express, but no other potential tenants.

“The Five Guys is a question mark. I haven’t had any contact with the Five Guys,” Gongwer said. “But I don’t want people to think Five Guys is pulling out. We’re just not far along enough to know.”

Five Guys, he said, has previously shown interest in other Ontario properties. In June 2013, the restaurant chain considered opening at the location of now Buckeye Express Car Wash at 616 Lexington-Springmill Rd. But when brought before planning commission in July 2013, Gongwer said, records show there were too many variances to accommodate.

“They pushed and pushed, but there were too many issues,” Gongwer said, including concerns from the fire department. He added many were safety related.

Five Guys media representatives weren’t immediately available to comment.

Files at the zoning inspector’s office show there were four potential tenants “spoken for” in the proposed five-tenant, one-building space under the former developer, Thomas English Retail Real Estate. These included a Panda Express on one corner, Five Guys on the other corner and a Sleep Number and sports-themed barber shop in two of the middle storefronts.

Based on the information Gongwer has now, only Panda Express appears to definitely remain committed, but he emphasizes that the others might still be interested. He just hasn’t heard one way or another at this time.

If the new site developers decide to build two buildings instead of one, Gongwer said, the redevelopment of the former Ocean Buffet property could take even longer.

“If they do the two buildings, everything starts over. The clock starts over. The permits start over,” he said.

Gongwer says the former Ocean Buffet building is still “viable,” but hypothesized that it’s unlikely to be a fitting location for a Panda Express or other similar businesses.

“I think it's a great location, it’s got great visibility coming down Lex-Springmill,” Gongwer said.

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