The race is on to fill the former Elephant Bar Restaurant in Goleta, and an Airport Honky Tonk dance hall and a to-be-named regional restaurant chain are neck-and-neck since both recently submitted official lease proposals.
Both are vying for the large retail/restaurant space at 521 Firestone Road, which remains vacant nearly a year after the national Elephant Bar chain did not renew its lease after 30 years with the Santa Barbara Airport, which owns the nearby property.
Turner didn’t provide a timeframe for an airport board decision, or the name of the restaurant.
Airport director Hazel Johns couldn’t say either, although the Santa Barbara City Council would have final say on what goes into the city space.
Clint Orr, the local behind the dance hall idea, submitted his proposal on behalf of the California Country Dance Foundation, a nonprofit organization he created and leads as executive director.
In his report, Orr says he has been a real estate broker in California for 25 years, an accountant and an author. He questioned the profitability of a restaurant, especially since Elephant Bar left last September because of financial reasons.
He hopes to close an offer on the airport space by Sept. 15, creating what he calls a “world-class cowboy dance hall.”
Orr envisions Airport Honky Tonk as a regional draw, with plenty of parking and vacant lots that could be incorporated into a country music and dance “theme park of sorts.”
The dance hall would play contemporary country music for couples, and would provide free dance lessons to teenagers to teach the two-step, cowboy cha-cha, the West Coast Swing, the East Coast Swing and the waltz.
“Very simple — guys lead, girls follow,” Orr wrote in an email. “Free lessons seven days a week. One genre, live bands, no restaurant, inexpensive beer and wine only.”
Service organizations that used to frequent Elephant Bar for luncheon meetings could return for catered lunches once again, he said.
Orr estimated converting the space into a dance hall would cost $100,000, accounting for kitchen removal, re-roofing, hardwood floor installation, permits and liquor licensing and restroom expansion.
The California Country Dance Foundation would fund the dance hall, along with small costs to participants.
Orr’s proposal asks to lease the property to the foundation for three years, with a two-year option because he hopes to eventually expand across Hollister Avenue in 2017-2019.
Airport officials have previously said they would like another long-term tenant to fill the space, preferably a restaurant, since that would fall within its general plan.