12/01/08 — Population key factor in getting restaurant

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Population key factor in getting restaurant

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on December 1, 2008 1:46 PM

While the economy might be keeping some businesses from expanding around the country in general and in Wayne County in particular, what is keeping restaurants away is one factor, local development officials say -- who lives here.

Many of the well-known chain restaurants that look into moving into the area focus on one item -- population, City Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said.

And right now, Goldsboro just doesn't have it.

"People want to have the Red Lobsters and the Olive Gardens, but what they don't realize is that Goldsboro has to have the population to get them to come here," Cianfarra said.

And the only way to increase that population is through annexation.

"People don't like the word annexation. They think it's a bad word, but people want to come and have things to do and places to eat," Cianfarra said.

In the past few years, Red Lobster, International House of Pancakes and Buffalo Wild Wings have all said they were interested in bringing their establishments to Goldsboro, but none of those restaurant chains have committed.

Others, like Honeybaked Ham and Zaxby's, have also said they were coming but haven't moved dirt or made renovations to any building yet.

Goldsboro planning staff said that a Cracker Barrel has also shown interest in a spot on Berkeley Boulevard where the current Sears Auto Center sits.

Some of that inconsistency might be caused by the economy, Cianfarra said.

"Businesses are being cautious," he said. "They don't want to branch out right now."

But most of it is that the eateries need a basis for business, and they aren't sure if Goldsboro will have what it takes to keep their establishments profitable.

"I have spoken to a lot of these demographic guys on the phone, and they want to know our population more than anything else. And they want to know what the education level is, and what the average income is," Cianfarra said. "If we don't have what they want, they go somewhere else."

Goldsboro has a lot of the buffet-type restaurants, and Cianfarra said that hurts those who want the more well-known, sit-down restaurants.

"I had one of those demographic analyst guys tell me once that the buffet restaurants signal a population that is less educated and has a lower income," Cianfarra said. "That is not the same place that some of these more well-known restaurants want to be in."

Large retail establishments are similar to chain restaurants -- they need to have a sturdy basis of business.

"See, a Home Depot won't come to a town unless there are 100,000 people or more in a certain mile radius because there has to be enough business for both it and Lowe's," Cianfarra said.

But by increasing the population, and in turn, increasing the education level and income level of the city, residents would have more places for eating and shopping.

"People who live in the county will come to the city to eat and do their shopping," Cianfarra said. "But they aren't in the city, so it doesn't count toward the population. Now, some of these businesses will use county statistics, but most use the city population."

Cianfarra does believe that the economy has more of an adverse effect on one piece of prime commercial property than the population does, however.

The property on Wayne Memorial Drive where the Days Inn used to sit is still for sale at a price of $1.1 million for 3.28 acres.

"Now, I don't know what it appraised at, and if it appraised at that price, then good for Mr. (Mark) Daley (III -- the owner of the property)," Cianfarra said.

The problem with the land isn't so much the price, he said. It's more the size.

Businesses that will look at that location will likely be a restaurant or a hotel, since the space is visible from U.S. 70, is located right off the exit and has a large number of people who travel that road daily.

The space there allows for a hotel and a restaurant, two restaurants or even three smaller restaurants, Cianfarra said.

And he feels that if one restaurant chain wants the space, it won't need it in its entirety.

"In this economy, if the land was subdivided into smaller parcels, I think it would sell a lot better," Cianfarra said.

But the city inspector said he understands Daley's thought process in keeping the land in one piece.

"I can see why he wants to do that because he doesn't want to sell one and still have to mess with selling the other one or two parcels," he said.

Daley's office was contacted about the future plans for the land, but did not reply by presstime.

Cianfarra said some companies have looked into the space, like Biscuitville, but none have committed to purchasing the land.

In an interview in September, Realtor Bill Smith, who works for Daley's company The Generation Companies and is handling the sale of the property, said that he was in "serious talks with two separate parties."

Smith said then that he couldn't reveal too much about the negotiations since neither party was yet under contract, but he added that one party wishes to buy the entire piece while the other only wants to buy part of it.

"We are looking into subdividing the site, but we haven't decided which way we are going yet," he said then.

But the population of Goldsboro might have some influence on who is looking at the former Days Inn property.

"If we get some more people in the city instead of just right outside, then we could have some nice restaurants or a nice hotel on Wayne Memorial Drive," Cianfarra said.

Cianfarra believes that a grocery store might also be in the road's future -- possibly in the plaza with Office Depot.

"Some of these grocery stores are watching what Carlie C's IGA is doing, and they are doing good business there," he said. "If they continue doing as good as they are now in months to come, we might see a upscale grocery store down the road.

"But again, that depends on the business, and that goes back to the population."