Former Santorini site in St. Louis Park demolished after legal dispute
An Eden Prairie restaurant’s former home in St. Louis Park met the destructive power of heavy machinery Jan. 23 following a legal battle.
St. Louis Park brought the owners of Santorini to court after the City Council last summer declared the former structure near Interstate 394 and Hwy. 169 “structurally substandard to a degree requiring substantial renovation or clearance.”
“The judge authorized the city to go ahead and abate the hazard,” Director of Inspections Brian Hoffman said. “After that ruling, then the owners stepped forward and got a demolition contract and proceeded to remove the building.”
Both Hoffman and Santorini co-owner Tony Nicklow blamed the hazardous condition of the abandoned restaurant on break-ins and vandalism.
“They took everything, any wire, aluminum, all the pipes, anything they could salvage,” Nicklow said. “That’s why it became hazardous.”
The Nicklow family decided to close the St. Louis Park Greek restaurant in 2008 to make way for a proposal to develop a Hyatt hotel. The proposal failed due to economic conditions.
Originally, Santorini owners intended to close the restaurant permanently but decided to reopen the business upon learning of the availability of the new site in Eden Prairie by the SouthWest Transit station.
“We closed even before we knew about this place,” Nicklow said. “It was by accident. I was not planning to move. I was going to retire.”
Despite the “accident,” Nicklow said of the Eden Prairie site, “We’re pretty happy.”
Asked why the Nicklow family kept the deteriorating former site up so long, Nicklow said the owners hoped to persuade another restaurant owner to open on the site.
He said, “We wanted to keep the building. It was to our disadvantage not tearing it down because we would have paid much less property tax. We were hoping someone would come to buy it.”
A prospective hotel developer has expressed interest in the former Santorini site in St. Louis Park, but no documents have been signed yet, Nicklow said.
A statement sent to the media quoted Nicklow as saying, “It will be the official end to many, many restaurant memories, but we are ready for a new development here, and the time is now.”
Santorini opened in St. Louis Park in 1995 following decades of other Nicklow family restaurant ventures in the Twin Cities area. Nicklow decided to toast the razing of the St. Louis Park building with Greek ouzo and a small party bus.
Hoffman described a less festive set of circumstances leading up the razing, though.
The judge issued a deadline in December for the demolition, Hoffman said. If the owners did not demolish the building, the order gave the city the right to remove the building and seek reimbursement of costs from the owners.
Ultimately, the city provided the Santorini owners with more time after a contractor submitted a permit application.
“As long as they had a permit and were moving forward, we allowed them to do that rather than the city doing it,” Hoffman said. “It certainly saves the city work in having to carry the cost of it.”
The disconnection of underground utilities and the demolition eliminates the hazardous threat from the building, Hoffman said. The owners will have to install turf, pave the site or make other arrangements to address erosion concerns in the spring.
A letter to Nicklow last year by Chief Building Official John Tilton says an inspection found that exterior doors and windows had been damaged during a break-in, that the ransacking of the building had created a fire hazard and that the building’s automatic fire sprinkler system was inoperable.
Additionally, the letter states plumbing system damage created an unsanitary condition and that the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditions system were inoperable. The letter noted intoxicating liquor had been left in the building when Santorini moved out in violation of Minnesota statute.
Hoffman indicated St. Louis Park officials are relieved to have the building issues resolved.
He said, “We’re glad they stepped forward and took responsibility for it.”
Contact Seth Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org