Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 4, 2013

Stella restaurant spin-off on Front Street

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Owners of the renowned Trattoria Stella will open a second restaurant downtown in a proposed building project that’s unusual because the developers won’t ask for public money to offset their costs.

Tim Pulliam and Steve Morse, founders of the energy efficiency firm Keen Technical Solutions, propose to construct a two-story building on the southwest corner of Front and Cass streets to house a Stella spin-off in an environmentally sustainable and energy efficient building. The two entrepreneurs said they have no interest in pursuing public funding — or the associated politics that accompanied and undercut previous development attempts on the corner.

“We will build something sustainable that we know can stand by itself and doesn’t need public dollars,” Pulliam said. “Not one of us wants a five-story building. We want something that fits down there.”

The property includes the courtyard on the corner and a small building occupied by Great Lakes Bath & Body; the building to the south that houses Passageways Travel; and the building to the east that holds Cherry Hill Boutique.

Pulliam and Morse will update the Cherry Hill and Passageways buildings for safety and energy efficiency. A two-story addition will go behind the Cherry Hill building to house the restaurant’s kitchen on the ground floor with office space above. The two-story building on the corner will hold the rest of the restaurant and include open-air seating on the second floor.

Total new construction will add about 11,000-square feet at a cost of $3 to $4 million, depending on the final design.

The project will not require city commission approval. It will require approval from the city’s Historic District Commission, said Dave Weston, the city’s zoning administrator.

A previous attempt to redevelop the corner by Thom Darga and Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland stalled in May 2012 after Cherry Republic pulled out as the main tenant and Darga couldn’t find a replacement.

That $15 million proposal included a four-story building to replace the existing structures, underground parking, and over $2 million in public brownfield funding. The project drew opposition for its size and reliance on public financing.

Morse and Pulliam scooped up the property when it went back on the market as an investment for their profits from Keen Technical Solutions, one of the fastest-growing businesses in the state that they started in 2008 with a $25,000 loan.

“We both liked Monopoly growing up, and what better than to invest in a community that you really believe in and that you love,” Morse said.

They bought the Front and Cass property as a long-term investment, but their friendship with Trattoria Stella owners Paul and Amanda Danielson and Chef Myles Anton had them talking redevelopment sooner than planned.

“We always wanted to be downtown,” Paul Danielson said. “We have won the highest award you can get in the restaurant business, we have a staff that’s fantastic, and they are ready to grow, ready to do something else that’s fun.”

Danielson said it’s too early to decide what type of restaurant they will develop. It might not even be oriented to Italian cuisine, he said.

The restaurant should operate with 30 percent to 40 percent less energy than a typical restaurant of similar size, Pulliam said. The building also will make extensive use of recycled materials and local sources. Finish materials will include black locust lumber harvested from the Leelanau Peninsula, where the tree is an invasive species.

“We want to show that sustainable development with energy efficiency at the forefront can be done right in the middle of a historic downtown,” Pulliam said.

Construction should start in September with a target date of May 1, 2014, to open the restaurant.