Two regional restaurant chains are seriously interested in occupying the empty former Elephant Bar Restaurant near the Santa Barbara Airport, along with a completely different concept — a community dance hall to exclusively play country music.
Official lease proposals could be submitted as soon as this month, according to Jim Turner, a senior associate with Radius Commercial Real Estate and Investments.
Restaurants have shown a consistent level of interest in the restaurant/retail space at 521 Firestone Road in Goleta, vacant since September when the national chain did not renew its lease after 30 years with the airport, which owns the property.
Two regional restaurant chains are apparently not intimidated by the large size of the space — about twice the size of a typical Santa Barbara or Goleta restaurant, Turner said.
“We do have two restaurant operators that are very, very interested in the space,” he said, declining to share the names. “I think either operator would be a good fit.”
Also on the table is an unofficial proposal to open a community dance hall called “Honky Tonk,” the brainchild of local Clint Orr.
Turner said those discussions are ongoing, with Orr conducting research and gauging interest in the area, although the idea is outside what’s laid out in the airport’s general plan.
Orr could not be reached for comment, but he did speak at a Santa Barbara City Council meeting this week to let officials know his plans would soon be moving forward.
Turner said the dance club might somehow be set up as a nonprofit and provide a place for local high-school students to line or square dance to country music.
“I commend him for doing a lot of homework upfront,” Turner said. “I think it’s kind of a unique idea for the site.”
In the end, the airport district and Santa Barbara City Council will have final say, and choosing a restaurant is the preference, he said.
“The airport is looking forward to reviewing all restaurant proposals submitted and vetted by Radius Group,” Airport Director Hazel Johns said in an email.
The Elephant Bar used to serve as a popular venue for hosting meetings of local organizations, and the building is already equipped with a kitchen, 3,800 square feet of patio space, 98 parking spaces, and some furniture the Elephant Bar left behind.
Turner said both interested restaurants are qualified and boast numerous locations.
Once a proposal has been officially submitted, Turner said, the clock would start on a 30-day process to review and receive approval.