Flying Iguana is a no-go in San Marco Square

Flying Iguana is a no-go in San Marco Square

It looks like the Flying Iguana is not coming to San Marco Square after all.

Unable to work out a financially feasible parking solution to accommodate the 150-seat restaurant he planned to install in the Stellers Gallery building adjacent to the fire station, restaurateur Al Mansur decided to pull out of a deal where he would purchase the building at 1407 Atlantic Blvd.

Instead, the building will soon pass into the hands of another owner. Zambetti Properties, which has owned the building since 1995, has accepted another contract on the property, said Vincent Zambetti. Zambetti refused to give out any details other than to indicate it probably will not become a restaurant.

“It’s under contract and they have asked me to not say anything,” said Zambetti. “It will be sold in two to three months, or it might be in January,” he said, adding that he was “very disappointed” that the Flying Iguana was not going to make its home there.

“Potential buyers would like to put a restaurant in that space, but there is too much opposition,” he said.

Owner of the popular Al’s Pizza chain, which has locations throughout Jacksonville, Mansur’s plan to install a Flying Iguana Taqueria and Tequila bar, similar to the one he owns in the Beaches Town Center, was marked with controversy from the start.

Mansur had applied to the city’s Planning Commission for a liquor license and a waiver to reduce the required distance from a church from 500 feet to 111. Through his lawyer, Paul Harden, he had been working to acquire enough parking to make his application palatable to the city, while requesting a deviation to reduce the minimum number of required off-street parking spaces from 43 to eight. Zoning regulations required that he provide at least 43 spaces for his customers to use.

In a town meeting sponsored by the San Marco Preservation Society July 14, local residents, business owners and representatives from neighboring Southside Baptist Church debated the parking issues a restaurant in that location would create. During the meeting, Harden had said he was negotiating with two off-site parking lots in the San Marco area so Mansur could provide a valet service for the restaurant. At that time, Harden declined to specify which parking lots were being considered, and without more specificity, the Preservation Society had requested another town meeting be held so Harden could return to explain the details of Mansur’s plan to the community once they had become clear.

“I decided to pass on this site because of the parking issue. It became too costly to rent parking lots and use a valet service. It just didn’t make financial sense. I am still interested in San Marco, but the Square is just complicated with the new parking ordinance,” Mansur said in an email. “I love the San Marco neighborhood and still want to be there in the future, and I’m looking to work with the new development that’s coming. It was a lot of hurdles to do a location in the Square, and if there is no new business coming there, it’s just not going to grow. I think some of the residents just wanted it that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. I hope to be there soon in a different location,” he said.

LeAnna Cumber, president of the San Marco Preservation Society, said her board never knew enough about Mansur’s parking plans to offer a solution or take a stand on the issue. “We were in fact-finding mode, and we never got to the point where we were prepared to come out for or against the development,” she said. “Our board was split. As an organization, we are always ready to discuss potential development. Our goal is to work to help find a solution everyone can work with.”

Meanwhile, many members of the San Marco Merchants Association were very supportive of having the Flying Iguana come into the Square and sorry when they heard Mansur decided not to go through with his plans.

“The news that Flying Iguana elected not to come to San Marco was very disappointing,” said SMMA President Anita Vining. “The San Marco Merchants Association represents merchants and totally supports new business. The parking situation for some was a dilemma, but parking is plentiful in San Marco. There are only certain times of the day that one may park further away from their destination than they would at other times.” The merchants were in hopes that a shared valet for the entire Square would help to resolve Flying Iguana parking concerns and that is a project the SMMA continues to explore, she said.

One group that was not sorry to see Mansur withdraw his application were the folks at Southside Baptist Church, who opposed the idea of having a large eatery at that location from its inception. As the restaurant was to be in the shadow of the church, Southside Baptist intended to fight its request for a liquor license. The church was so concerned Flying Iguana customers would fill up its San Marco Place parking lot on Sundays, Wednesday evenings and when it had special events, such as weddings and funerals, it had considered charging a fee for parking and hiring a parking management company to oversee the lot. Now that Mansur has nixed the idea of moving to the Square, the church no longer plans to change its parking lot arrangement with the community, said Southside Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Gary Webber. 

“We support business, but not that business,” he said, noting the church recently arranged to allow the new Bold Bean Coffee House to use the lot behind its edifice adjacent to Hendricks Avenue during the times church was not in session or having a special event. 

“Southside Baptist is honored to be a part of this community, and we are always seeking ways to make San Marco a better place for the people who live, work, or visit here,” said Webber in an email. “Sharing our parking with local businesses is just one way we hope to serve people in San Marco. Until the recent controversy concerning the proposal of a tequila bar, whose parking lot usage would have gone outside the scope of our PUD (Planned Unit Development), I have not been aware of any problems with our policy of shared parking. We appreciate the way local residents and merchants have supported our desire to protect our ability to use our parking lot for church events and believe their support is evidence of the good will that exists among the merchants, residents and patrons of the square. The recent addition of Bold Bean Coffee is just the latest of many examples of our openness and commitment to partner with local businesses for the good of our community.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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