Tropical makeover for Old City Hall

– Old City Hall, a century-old building listed on the National
Registry of Historic Places, is about to get a makeover. Period
furniture is going out. Parrots and mangroves are on their way
Gilroy – Old City Hall, a century-old building listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, is about to get a makeover. Period furniture is going out. Parrots and mangroves are on their way in.

Facing eviction, Glen Gurries, the owner of the failed Old City Hall Restaurant, is about to close a deal with an area restaurateur who plans to open a Mexican eatery with a jungle theme. Jim Angelopoulus owner of Scramble’z in Morgan Hill, said the new restaurant will be “high-energy,” with an “adventurous, Mexican theme.”

“The theme is important. It’s going to be tropical, like a being in the jungle. We’re going to bring the outdoors indoors. We’re going to energize the place through decorations and lighting,” Angelopoulus said. “I think something like this, something that looks like a chain is what downtown Gilroy needs. Most of the Mexican restaurants there are tired-looking and small.”

Angelopoulus said he will go into escrow on the deal next week. If all goes well, the as-yet unnamed restaurant will open in June.

The deal is contingent on approval from the city, which owns the building. There are 18 years remaining on the original 20-year lease. Under its terms, Gurries has an option to sell his business to a new operator. The Gilroy City Council can’t reject the deal without just cause, such as a potential operator’s record of business failures.

Gilroy’s Administrative Service Director Michael Dorn said Friday that as soon as he receives an official proposal from Gurries and Angelopoulus, he will research the buyer and present the proposal to the City Council, probably within the next month.

Angelopoulus has a successful track record. Scrambles, which has a retro diner theme aimed at kids and families, opened in July 2004 and pulls in 4,000 customers a week. Prior to opening Scrambles the Angelopoulus family operated the City Diner in San Jose for 25 years.

One potential hurdle is Angelopoulus’ desire to remodel the interior of an historic building. Dorn said any remodeling work must be in character with the historic nature of the building.

“But if it’s just decorations, it’s a non-issue with the city,” he said.

Dorn said that the city took a soft line on evicting Gurries because city officials wanted to avoid the delay and expense of legal proceedings and looking for prospective tenants.

“We’re trying to minimize the city’s cost,” Dorn said. “Knowing that he’s trying to market it and sell it, that would be easier than announcing a request for proposals, evaluating them and taking them all to the council.”

Although the city never officially requested proposals, Dorn said he’s received about a dozen inquiries from people interested in the space. Two of them expressed disappointment Friday that they may not have a chance to move into the building.

Bill Ganson Jr., who owns Hampton Court Antique in the former St. Vincent DePaul Society building on Monterey Street with his partner William Moores, said Friday he was hoping to move into the building. He had plans for renting out consignment space and partnering with a caterer that wants to use the kitchen. Ganson will be evicted from his current building in July and is not having much luck finding a new location. One prospective landlord wanted rent of $7,000 a month.

“With utilities, that’s $2,000 a week. Who can afford that?” Ganson said. “We’re looking for a building, but I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t want to close because business is good.”

Bill Habing, who wants to open a restaurant that is also a youth center, music venue and soup kitchen, said that he will continue to fight to get into old city hall.

“I’m going to call Gurries and make him a better offer,” Habing said. “The restaurant that goes in there from Morgan Hill is going to fail. Everything that goes in there fails. I have something that won’t fail, that isn’t driven by the economy. I feel commissioned by God to do this.”

Old City Hall Restaurant survived for just more than a year. Two other businesses have failed in the space since the building reopened in 1998. Angelopoulus said his restaurant will thrive because it will offer a fun atmosphere and low prices.

“I think the previous tenant’s prices were way too high,” Angelopoulus said. “He didn’t cater to the local market and we want to do that. We feel like it’s a good location and with the right theme it will work.”

Steve Gearing, owner of Happy Dog Pizza on Fifth Street, welcomed the prospect of a new competitor.

“I think it will be neat,” Gearing said. “It will be cool to have two places for people to bar hop. If downtown starts to become a destination for that kind of thing, then it’s better for all of us if there are a few places to go.”

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