Sidetrack Bar and Grill $1.2M expansion project: 30 new jobs, apartments and more
Ypsilanti's Sidetrack Bar and Grill is in the process of beginning a $1.2 million renovation and expansion project that will add nearly 15,000 square feet to the business and some notable additions.
Sidetrack and Frenchie's Owner Linda French purchased the adjacent building at 52 E. Cross St. in June for $350,000 from King C &C,LLC to add to her existing 10,000-square-foot building. The building was previously occupied by Bird Brain, which has since relocated.
French said the project is starting "right away" and a hole was just cut into the building last week. Sidetrack, located at 56 E. Cross, and Frenchies, at 54 E. Cross St., will be expanding into where the Bird Brain was once located. Both Sidetrack and Frenchie's will remain open during the expansion.
French hopes to have construction done by the end of 2013.
The expansion into the second floor of the former Bird Brain space will give Sidetrack space to accommodate large parties, weddings, birthdays and other events. Also on the second floor will be a newly created bar and lounge area. The bar on the first floor of Sidetrack will remain open, French said.
Initial plans call for the creation of two banquet rooms on the second floor, that will hold up to 125 people each.
"We will restore the second floor," French said. "We're going to put in new windows to get a panoramic view of the trains shooting by. We're going to divide it up into rooms that we can use."
French has long desired to further expand and renovate the upper floors, but was always impeded by an issue of access. With the recent acquisition of the building at 52 E. Cross, access issues will be mitigated through the use of an external rear staircase. An elevator will also be added.
French plans to put residential units on the third floor, creating about four one-bedroom apartments, but French said she may add two 2-bedroom units as well.
French said she will likely market the apartments to young professionals looking to live in a vibrant area.
French plans to completely knock out the current 600-square-foot Sidetrack kitchen and rebuild a new one that will be double in size. The new kitchen will allow food service to be faster and possibly increase food offerings.
"It makes it easier for staff and gives us the ability to do the expansion while we're still open," French said. "We don't plan on closing but for a day or two. Before, we were always running where we had to schedule the kitchen usage. I didn't have the space. Now all of my cooks can blossom and really use their skills."
Two new bathrooms will also be constructed in the building, French said, after customers requested she consider possibly updating the bathrooms.
"We're going to be putting in gigantic, new bathrooms," she said. "We have an outdated kitchen and the bathrooms are inadequate and overused."
The expansion project alone is projected to create 40 jobs over 24 months, according to initial plans, and French has already started to employ the services of local designers, contractors and building specialists.
Upon completion of the project, French said Sidetrack will permanently hire at least 30 individuals ranging from servers, kitchen staff, bar staff, managers, marketing staff, etc. Some of what the new hires will be doing are tasks that French once did, but is now delegating out.
"We're creating some new positons we’ve already started the process," she said.
French said she was at a crossroad in deciding whether to leave the restaurant as is or do some necessary renovations.
"At my age, I've been doing this for 33 years," French said. "It was at a point where I could leave Sidetrack alone... This was the last chance to put everything in for the next generation."
"In doing this project, the timing was just right," French said.
With all of the new additions, French's property taxes are likely to increase so she is in the process of applying for an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Exemption grant.
Properties must meet eligibility requirements including a statement of obsolescence by the local assessor, according to state records. The property must also be located in an established Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District.
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Exemptions are approved for a term of 1-12 years, as determined by the local unit of government. What the grant does is allows the property taxes for the rehabilitated property to be based on the previous year's taxable value. Sidetrack alone was assessed at $208,800 in 2012, making its market value $417,600.
The Ypsilanti City Council must first approve the application and may consider it as soon as January. If granted approval, the application would then go to the state for consideration. The timetable can range in time and take up to six months, according to Ypsilanti Downtown Development Director Tim Colbeck.
In French's application for the OPRA grant, she stated a 12-year exemption is imperative to the fiscal viability of the project.
"Without the tax postponement afforded by the OPRA grant, Sidetrack would not have sufficient operating income to cover the increase in both real estate taxes and operating expenses," French wrote.
In the application, French said the grant would allow Sidetrack to have its mortgage debt paid off by 2024, making available the additional cash flow needed to cover the increase in property taxes once the grant exemption has ended.
Sidetrack will also use a $15,000 rehabilitation grant from the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority to go toward some of the cost of the renovation.
Sidetrack first opened in 1979, replacing the 1,100-square-foot space that was once the Central Bar. In the last 33 years, French said she has done several incremental expansion and improvement projects.
"When we first started this was a 65 seat bar and the bathrooms were in the middle of dining room," French said. "The kitchen was 200 square feet and then every year we tried to do improvements."
Business has continued to improve and thrive over the years, French said, even in the midst of an economic downturn. French sees between 500 and 700 people customers each day.
"Every year we grow," she said. "That's all we ever wanted to do. We have loyal customers and good staff."
Although several improvements will soon be underway, French said her main goal is to keep the tradition and historic feel of the restaurant. The first floor of the 250 seat restaurant will remain largely untouched.
"We want to leave Sidetrack just how it is," she said. "When you walk in the door, you won't notice much that we've done. We don't really want to change Sidetrack, just use the space we already own. It's a fun business and all we want to do is have fun and make customers happy... I’m very excited to reinvest in Ypsilanti."