Tale of two restaurants comes before Amenity Authority Committee

The fate of the buildings housing the old El Santiago Club and the current Tierra Del Sol restaurant were discussed by the AAC on Wednesday.
The fate of the buildings housing the old El Santiago Club and the current Tierra Del Sol restaurant were discussed by the AAC on Wednesday.

It was a tale of two restaurants on Wednesday afternoon before the Amenity Authority Committee.

Residents of the old El Santiago Club area have remained adamant that they want a restaurant back in that building.

Those living in the Tierra Del Sol area are less than lukewarm to the idea of folding an existing restaurant into their long-fought-for plans for recreation facility upgrades.

Residents championing the return of a restaurant at the El Santiago Club building immediately questioned whether the die had been cast and the AAC had already made up its mind against a restaurant.

“This board and staff, nothing is set. I think there might be an assumption. Nothing has been set by this board at this point,” said District Manager Janet Tutt.

However, the AAC previously has indicated it is not interested in getting into the restaurant business. Some essentially reiterated that position today.

“At one time, El Santiago was a very busy restaurant. But as you know that business went down and down. If there was a strong demand to run a business at El Santiago, it is my belief that the developer would have had a contract with someone to run that restaurant,” said AAC member Carl Bell.

Tutt reported the result of a survey conducted at the end of August by the Villages Recreation Department with regard to the El Santiago Club.

The results were:

• 380 respondents said they wanted a restaurant back in the building.

• 189 said they wanted to see the building converted into a recreation facility.

• 105 said they wanted a quilting/sewing room.

• 89 said they wanted an indoor athletic facility.

• And there were a scattering of other responses.

Residents complained there was no category for “restaurant” in the survey. Essentially, “restaurant” was a write-in candidate.

Ultimately, compromise was in the air. Residents indicated they would settle for some kind of catered club as opposed to a full-service restaurant.

AAC member Ann Forrester suggested that a Request For Proposal be put out seeking a vendor to move into the 5,500-square-foot building which essentially has been gutted.

“It would be our version of the Tiki Bar,” said Forrester, referring to the once-popular bar on the Historic Side, now also in a catered status.

The Recreation Department currently has vendor contracts for food and beer at the softball facilities. Thus, there is some precedent for this type of arrangement.

AAC members said they would reconvene next month to see what catering/vendor possibilities have arisen for the old El Santiago Club.

But one AAC member called for a reality check.

“We are kidding ourselves if we think someone is going to magically appear to do this. If there is no one willing to do this, and the developer couldn’t find someone, we are going to be right back here in a month,” said AAC member Rich Lambrecht.

Tierra Del Sol

Meanwhile, residents of the Tierra Del Sol area said they want the recreation facility improvements, including indoor bathrooms, for which they have fought for years.

They did not seem interested in a last-minute plan to fold the existing Tierra Del Sol restaurant into the recreation facility plans.

Tutt said as of this week, the developer had not given the district all of the specifics of the “turn-key” purchase of the restaurant building. Buying the restaurant building would essentially make the AAC landlords of the existing restaurant, which would be scaled-back. Tutt said she was concerns that all of the discussion may have taken a toll on the existing restaurant.

“Tierra Del Sol is not going away. I feel very badly from our discussion that that is the impression. They are shrinking their size,” Tutt said.

Ultimately, it was decided to begin to move ahead with already-decided plans for the Tierra Del Sol Recreation Center, but leave the door open to an offer from the developer on possible purchase of the 15-year-old restaurant building.