Bennigan's at Town Center to close Friday

Restaurant and offices to be razed in the fall and replaced by condos

January 27, 2003

Bennigan's restaurant, which has served fare to hungry moviegoers and thirsty concertgoers in Columbia's Town Center for 18 years, will close Friday, and the Rouse Co. plans to demolish the restaurant and adjoining offices in the fall and build a high-rise condominium complex.

The restaurant is closing to move its staff to other locations, said Joe Giannino, director of operations for the restaurant division of Next Shift Enterprise, which owns Bennigan's franchise rights in the area.

The group opened a Bennigan's restaurant along Snowden River Parkway last year and is anticipating building one in Glen Burnie this year, Giannino said. All 65 workers at the Town Center establishment will be offered a chance to relocate, he said.

Giannino and local residents said the 7,017-square-foot restaurant and bar had been a popular dinner spot and a gathering place for Jimmy Buffett fans when the King Parrot Head was in town. But in recent years, crowds declined.

"It has run its life cycle," Giannino said. "It was the spot for a while. It did not have the real healthy competition that now exists on the lake. When they took the [movie] theater down, it took some of the nighttime crowd and some of the day crowd."

Giannino said that because the closing was forced, it is unclear whether the franchise contract would require the franchisee to open a restaurant nearby. However, he said the group had no plans to build in Columbia, where land and space are at a premium. "We're trying to make the very best of a disappointing situation," he said.

Rouse expects to demolish the Sterrett Place building, which consists of Bennigan's and an adjacent 29,000-square- foot office building, in the fall, said Dennis Miller, vice president for development.

In its place, Provident Commercial, a Bethesda development company, will build a mixed-use high-rise with condominiums and 10,000 square feet of commercial space that could be used for offices or a restaurant.

The building is expected to tower 18 to 22 stories over the lake and have about 175 housing units, Miller said.

On the site that housed the cinema, which is about 50 feet away, Ryland Homes will build a four- to five-story condominium complex called the Plaza at Town Center with 48 units and underground parking, Miller said.

General Cinema operated on the 4-acre site until 2000, and the building was razed in 2001.

Miller said he expected the builders to begin selling the condominium units in the summer or early fall. He said the early move by Bennigan's would not affect the builders' timetable.

"It's time for us to begin to develop the downtown," he said. "It's an opportunity to make the downtown more mature. It's going to make it a more vibrant community around the clock, with people living down by the mall and on the water."

Wayne Christman, senior asset manager for Rouse, said Bennigan's has been a mainstay on Sterrett Place. It was a key part of the thriving restaurant park that grew in Town Center, an area that was fed by the movie theater, the ambience of Lake Kittamaqundi and live entertainment sponsored by the Columbia Association during summers. Before Bennigan's moved in, the building was occupied by a Magic Pan restaurant.

Local residents, including a group of teen-agers who frequent the restaurants on school half-days, said they will miss Bennigan's.

"This is the place you go after midterms," said Teresa Ronayne, 16, of Centennial High School.

"They just got rid of the movie theater, now they're going to get rid of this?" said Bryant Pho, 17, also of Centennial. "That's really sad."

Some said they likely would go to the newer Bennigan's on Snowden River Parkway.

"We have church groups that come here sometimes on Sunday," said Earle Knott, who said he had been a patron for 15 years. "We'll still go over to the other Bennigan's. We'll probably migrate in that direction."

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