Tim Hortons plans to build a restaurant on the site of a vacant church, the most extensive new development on East Main Street in years.
According to city documents, Tim Hortons wants to buy and raze the former Story-Hypes United Methodist Church, 2000 E. Main St., if its variance requests to create more parking and allow more room for a drive-through operation are approved by the Springfield Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday.
East Main Street has had various recent improvements — mostly rehabilitations and redevelopments of places such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
“(But) this would be the first new development in the last couple years in that corridor, specifically as it relates to the Eastern Edge Corridor Plan,” said Bryan Heck, Springfield planning and zoning administrator.
The corridor plan was adopted in 2008 and is a land-use plan for East Main Street to promote growth and business friendly commercial development while maintaining historical and residential areas.
The new Tim Hortons fits particularly well with the plan as it involves tearing down a vacant property that is now unsightly, Heck said. It also calls for more than 28 percent of the land to be used for green space and beautification.
“The city always encourages new development, specifically when it involves vacant property and vacant structures that have been vandalized and deteriorated to the point where redevelopment is not feasible,” Heck said.
The former church has been vacant since November 2010, said Jeff Mullinix, pastor for Faith United Methodist Church, which owns the property.
“It has been almost 1.5 years since we first received the offer from Tim Hortons,” Mullinix said. “A lot of the hang-up has been the zoning. Tim Hortons is ready.”
The land sale is contingent on the approval of the two variances requested, Heck said, and the city has been working with Faith United.
The restaurant chain’s corporate office didn’t respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Tim Hortons is responsible for tearing down the building as part of the sale, Mullinix said, while Faith United is paying to remove the asbestos.
Residents surrounding the church said since the building has been vacant, people have broken in and it looks dilapidated.
“I hope (Tim Hortons) boosts the area up and cleans it up,” said Jim LeValley, a nearby resident. “People are tired of picking trash up.”
Belmont Avenue resident Dave O’Dell, said people have broken into the building and said no one in the neighborhood has known what to do about it.
A Tim Hortons “will probably make it better. It’ll be good having something right there,” on the corner of North Belmont and Main Street, he said.
Local commercial real estate company, Midland properties has listed the 18,000-square-foot property for $495,000, according to its website. Midland owns surrounding parcels as well, said Pete Noonan, a partner at Midland.
“As you look at that area, you see many of the likely users of that kind of property already there,” Noonan said. “So will Tim Hortons bring in, by their presence, additional ones? I don’t know, but I do think it will be a positive addition to the area.”
Noonan said selling commercial property has been a challenge of late, mainly because of the economy.
“I would not say that the area is so much of a challenge as the fact that it’s always that we’ve just been through a tough economic time when there has been a limited activity, as far as commercial development is concerned,” Noonan said. “And Springfield is always a bit of a challenge, in terms of development.”
Liz Nelson, owner of Thin Lizzy’s at 11 N. Belmont Ave., has run her business on the corner of Main Street for 14 years and has experienced the same kind of issue.
“Any time you utilize a building in a business area, it’s a plus,” Nelson said of Tim Hortons. “But we still have several (vacant) buildings around here. The economy is still what it is and it’s hard to start a new business.”
Noonan also said some zoning requirements on that stretch of East Main Street, part of the Eastern Edge Corridor Plan, have been somewhat challenging as well. Noonan has been working with Tim Hortons for some time to work some of those issues out.
In June, Tim Hortons requested to rezone the area — a residential zone — to accommodate a restaurant. Now it needs to wait for variances to allow for a drive through and 19 parking spots.
Noonan said if the variances pass on Wednesday, it will allow Tim Hortons to do more architectural planning and get building permits. The Board of Zoning Appeals meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Hall Forum, 76 E. High St.
Noonan said after that, he can sell the building to Tim Hortons. He expects that to occur in the spring.