Obici restaurant?

Published 11:06 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If the Suffolk City Council accepts a proposal from a local group, the Obici House would be turned into a fine-dining restaurant, complete with wine cellar and meeting space.

Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House submitted the only complete proposal in response to the city’s request for potential plans for the historic property, sources said this week.

The deadline for those proposals was Oct. 22.

The city sought plans for the renovation and reuse of the Italianate house that sits adjacent to Sleepy Hole Golf Course’s 18th green. The building once was the home of Amedeo Obici and his wife Louise.

“We feel very good about it,” CPOH president Susan Blair said Tuesday. “It’s a very strong proposal. It’s a great solution.”

Blair’s group formed earlier this year to help save Obici House from destruction or being removed from public use.

The group’s plan calls for an investment of up to $1.77 million for the renovation and restoration of the building, which suffers from years of neglect. About $1 million more would be required to ready the home for a restaurant and the Carriage House next door for a grill room and business space that would be used by operators of the golf course.

Funding for the work would come from tax credits, private and corporate donations, grants and loans, Blair said, adding that the group is not seeking any tax money from the city to help bring its dream to fruition.

The CPOH would purchase the buildings from the city and lease the land on a long-term basis. It would in turn lease the home to a restaurateur.

The plan submitted last week seeks to return the structures to their former glory.

“Restoration activities will focus on maintaining the unique existing architectural details of the facilities,” the proposal states. “The restoration of the original appearance and spirit will guide all of the renovation work … specifically restoring or rebuilding original elements, rather than replacement.”

Once renovation is complete, the main structure would be “leased to an existing and highly experienced restaurateur with a sizeable and loyal customer base and regional name recognition,” according to the proposal.

Blair said the group has been in talks with a potential candidate, whom she would not name. But she said the group would do “due diligence” with other candidates if its proposal is approved by the city.

“The Obici House structure lends itself remarkably well to this proposed use,” the proposal states. “The large existing kitchen, open and flowing floor plan and the access to the outside with the unspoiled views (of the Nansemond River) are perfect for an upscale dining destination and experience.”

If configured as suggested by the CPOH proposal, the house could seat about 100 diners inside, with as many as 50 others able to be served outside on proposed terraces. The second floor would be designated for overflow dining, private affairs and meetings spaces. Special events also could be scheduled for the space.

Even the basement area could be used by the restaurant, with a potential conversion for use as a wine cellar and retail area that could host wine-tasting events.

The group has suggested the restaurant be called “The Obici House Restaurant at Sleepy Hole.”

The first floor of the Carriage House would be converted into a Grill Room and Bar for golfers and others visiting the course, and the upstairs area could be used for office space, according to the proposal.

With the plan now in the hands of city officials, members of the preservation organization are now turning their attention to public relations, Blair said.

The group has developed a PowerPoint presentation that members will show soon to the Chamber of Commerce and the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as “pretty much anybody that wants it,” she said.

“People want to know about this,” she added. “We feel like, because they came out and supported us, they ought to know. We’ve said all along that the house is for the public and should be used by the public.”