Raleigh seeks to find tenant to replace The Mint restaurant

Officials aim to find restaurant to take lease

mgarfield@newsobserver.comApril 18, 2012 

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Diners eat lunch at The Mint restaurant in downtown Raleigh Wednesday July 30th, 2008. The restaurant received some money from the city for renovations to the building; some people, including other downtown restaurant owners, are asking why they got the money when others didn't. staff/Chris Seward

CHRIS SEWARD — 2008 News & Observer file photo

— City officials are negotiating to bring a new restaurant to the space formerly occupied by The Mint, a Fayetteville Street eatery that closed late last week.

The prospective tenant would inherit The Mint’s unexpired lease or strike a new deal for the city-owned property, City Manager Russell Allen told council members Tuesday.

The restaurant would get up to six months to make upfits, hire a staff and prepare for an opening, but it wouldn’t receive city assistance, Allen said.

The new rental rate will start out at $18 per square foot, which is about $3 less than the Mint was paying when it closed, Allen said. The Mint was current on its lease when it shut its doors.

The city faced criticism from some downtown Raleigh restaurateurs over the deal that was struck in 2006 between the Raleigh Restaurant Group, The Mint’s owner, and the city, which owns the One Exchange Plaza building on Fayetteville Street.

They said the city was subsidizing their competition by spending $1 million to convert the ground-floor space into a location suitable for a restaurant.

On Tuesday, Councilman Thomas Crowder said “it’s something the city shouldn’t have done.” But Crowder voted to authorize negotiations with a new tenant.

“Unless we were to rip out the infrastructure, a restaurant is the only user (that can) go in,” he said.

When the deal was struck with The Mint, city officials said they were doing what any other private landlord would do to attract a tenant. They also said they would recoup the investment made in the space over the course of The Mint’s 10-year lease.

Allen said Tuesday that the new deal being negotiated would be a 5-year lease with an option for an additional 5 years. Changes to the groundfloor space at One Exchange Plaza became necessary after a bank moved out, Allen said: “There really was no potential tenant for that use.”

The Mint, which opened in early 2008 when the recession was just taking hold, struggled to find a following, particularly when the average cost of a dinner entree was pushing $30.

“The Mint has tried really hard,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in a recent interview. “They have fulfilled all their financial obligations to us.”

McFarlane added, “I don’t doubt we’ll be able to get someone else in that space.”

A year ago, the City Council approved a rent restructuring for The Mint, reducing its monthly payments for three years and then recouping much of that money with higher rents in the later years of the lease. The restructuring reduced the overall value of the 10-year lease by $339.

The city should move ahead with long-term plans to sell the building, said Councilman Bonner Gaylord. “It puts us in a challenging situation to be in this business,” he said.

Rick Jones, managing partner of the Raleigh Restaurant Group, did not return calls seeking comment. Allen would not comment on potential concepts for the next tenant.

Garfield: 919-836-4952

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