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Lanier Plaza business owners oppose redevelopment

POSTED: April 10, 2014 12:16 a.m.

Aurelio Guzman has fond childhood memories of the El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville.

His father opened the establishment in the Lanier Plaza shopping center some 30 years ago, and the success of the business spawned six additional locations throughout Hall County.

“It’s a sentimental thing to him, and me, too,” Guzman said. “I grew up with it.”

But the good memories Guzman associates with the original El Sombrero are now being replaced with nightmares.

A proposal to redevelop the shopping center means the restaurant will soon have to close, a prospect that has taken Guzman off guard.

“I don’t like it at all,” he said.

The city of Gainesville is fast-tracking a rezoning application so Hutton, a Tennessee-based developer, can proceed with purchasing and redeveloping Lanier Plaza.

Through its subsidiary, Polestar Development LLC, Hutton plans to build a 42,000-square-foot grocery store with an accompanying fueling station on the property, which, in addition to El Sombrero, currently houses the Lanier Laundromat, a spa, United Custom Electronix and Bodyplex Fitness.

Hutton is not acquiring the freestanding building on the property that Blockbuster once occupied.

Surveyors were spotted at the shopping center Tuesday as plans to proceed with the redevelopment move along swiftly.

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board will hold a hearing on the matter April 22.

Many of the business owners in Lanier Plaza told The Times they were still under lease, but had been asked by the property owner to exit by May or June.

Robert Tyner, who has owned the Lanier Laundromat for 10 years, said he was told he had to close shop by June, even though his lease runs through September.

“Of course, we’d like to stay in business,” Tyner said. “But that’s progress, I suppose.”

Mihwa Kellenberger, who runs a spa in the shopping center, said her lease was also good until September, and added her business partners had hired a lawyer to fight the proposed redevelopment.

Guzman, meanwhile, said his lease is good through the end of the year. He said he feels the property owner hasn’t been forthcoming about plans to redevelop the shopping center.

Guzman said he was told Lanier Plaza would simply be renovated, and that he would be allowed to reopen his business after six to eight months.

“Words are nothing,” he said, expressing his doubt. “Put it on paper.”

Guzman said his family would do whatever is possible to hold onto its business, but admitted he’s not sure what can be done.

“I don’t know what my next step is,” Guzman said. “I’ve never dealt with this before.”

Guzman said while he could likely transfer many of his employees at Lanier Plaza to other restaurant locations across the county, job losses might be unavoidable.

“I want to keep this restaurant,” he said.


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