The hunt continues for the next national restaurant chain to fill the former Elephant Bar Restaurant at the Santa Barbara Airport, which remains empty nearly nine months after closing its doors.
The restaurant/retail space at 521 Firestone Road in Goleta has sat vacant since the end of September, when the national chain did not renew its lease after 30 years with the airport, which owns the property.
Two months ago, Radius Commercial Real Estate and Investments began listing the 8,700-square-foot property under a one-year agreement with the airport, hoping to tie down another tenant as soon as possible.
Although the spot has piqued the interest of several local and national restaurateurs, the catch so far has been finding someone willing to take on such a large space.
Not surprising, considering Elephant Bar CEO Robert Holden last summer blamed repeated years of financial losses for forcing the closure of the former flagship location.
“In my experience, it’s typically easier to lease a previous restaurant space because you have all the existing improvements,” said Jim Turner, Radius senior associate. “It’s just this one is kind of an anomaly because it’s so big.
“We’ve had probably at least half a dozen types of local restaurants take a peek at it. I think they’re a little overwhelmed by the size. We’re kind of working our way through, making contacts with major chains.”
In addition to the indoor space — about twice the size of a typical Santa Barbara or Goleta restaurant — the property features 3,800 square feet of patio space, which requires no extra rent, Turner said.
The restaurant, formerly a popular venue for hosting meetings of local organizations, boasts 98 parking spaces, a kitchen and even some of the furniture the Elephant Bar left behind.
“If it was a 3,000-square-foot restaurant, we’d probably have it leased by now,” Turner said. “There are not many restaurants that I’m aware of in Santa Barbara that are that large. That’s our goal, to find another operator similar to the Elephant Bar if we can find one.”
After exhausting all avenues, Turner said, brokers could begin emphasizing alternative uses for the space, including automotive, office, accounting or others.
Acting Airport Director Hazel Johns said that would be discussed as a last option, since the airport’s master plan calls for a restaurant in that close location.
“It is an important property, certainly, and the mix of the restaurant needs to be a good fit for the airport,” Johns said. “We recognize that it’s a large space, and that large space just doesn’t fit a lot of models for a variety of restaurants.”