By Steve Plunkett
A Houston’s restaurant appears headed for a December 2015 grand opening on the former Wildflower site on the Intracoastal.
But many details in the lease proposal by Hillstone Restaurant Group Inc., which the City Council reviewed Jan. 14, remained conceptual, Deputy City Manager George Brown said.
Even the restaurant’s name could change, Glenn Viers, the group’s vice president, said when asked it if will be a Houston’s.
“At this point in time I don’t know that we’ve really made that decision,” Viers said. “That’s certainly the way that we’re leaning.”
Hillstone’s conceptual drawings show dock space and a pier for boating patrons as well as a cantilever deck for foot traffic. It also proposes a 2,000-square-foot patio for outdoor dining. Hillstone already operates a Houston’s off Glades Road at Military Trail.
“We’ve been a happy and proud member of the Boca Raton community for over 20 years,” Viers said. “We feel that we’ve got the wherewithal to really develop what we feel is an exceptional site into an exceptional restaurant site.”
James Drake, who lives across the Intracoastal from the site, asked that landscaping or a wall be put in to keep automobile lights from shining on his house.
“You’re going to have hundreds of cars coming in with headlights glaring all day and night,” Drake said.
Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie said she has concerns about parking at the site and access to it, along with the proposed restaurant’s impact on traffic. She also wanted assurance that neighboring Silver Palm Park and its boat launch facility would not be affected.
And council member Anthony Majhess said there were not enough details in the Hillstone proposal.
“I don’t see how our board can move forward tonight or give direction to move forward and negotiate a lease based on the information we have in hand,” he said.
Mayor Susan Whelchel said city staff could tackle those problems while they worked with Hillstone to create a development plan and refine the proposed lease. Staff and the restaurant company could not communicate with each other until after the proposal was unsealed and analyzed.
“Why don’t we let them talk to each other so that they can work out these details and the concerns that we’ve heard,” Whelchel said.
The council voted 4-1 to proceed with negotiations, with Majhess dissenting.
The following weekend someone concerned that Hillstone would take space away from boaters created a Facebook page titled “Save Boca’s Silver Palm Boat Ramp.” The page received more than 600 “likes” in its first three days and a letter from the restaurant group.
“Hillstone does not intend to make any alterations to Silver Palm Park, especially to the boat ramp or trailer parking,” it said, pointing out that a map on the page erroneously showed that the company wanted to use the park for restaurant parking.
If that wasn’t enough to allay fears, Haynie presented a resolution at the Jan. 28 meeting to affirm the council’s Jan. 14 action, specifying that it asked for a revised proposal and insisted that Silver Palm’s spaces for trailer parking would remain the same.
“Over the last several days we’ve had so much confusion and there’s been so much of a question mark as to what the council’s actual direction was to staff,” Haynie said.
Majhess said the resolution, which passed 5-0, was closer to what he proposed at the earlier meeting.
“I still want to see where we’re going to park the cars,” he said.
Hillstone was the only company to respond to the city’s request for lease proposals. It also operates Houston’s restaurants in Pompano Beach and North Miami Beach, and Hillstone in Coral Gables and the Palm Beach Grill in Palm Beach.
It plans a restaurant between 5,500 and 7,500 square feet that would be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. The company wants a minimum 20-year lease with five five-year options and said it would pay $500,000 a year in rent plus 5 percent of gross annual sales.
Boca Raton bought the 2.3-acre parcel at the northwest base of the Palmetto Park Road bridge in 2009 for $7.5 million.