Sonoma, the swanky and well-regarded north county eatery, has abandoned plans to open a second location in the building at the corner of Main and Federal streets where Hanover Theatre is in the midst of a $5 million renovation and expansion project.
Plans for the first-floor restaurant at 551 Main St. are now in limbo, according to Troy Siebels, president and CEO of Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, after Sonoma Restaurant of Princeton decided to walk away from the project because it was too expansive of an endeavor.
“[Sonoma] decided that they’re not looking to move ahead,” Siebels said Tuesday, April 26. “I think it was just a bigger bite than [Sonoma chef/owner Bill Brady] was looking to take.”
“It just didn’t work for me at this time,” said Brady, who has also been a culinary teacher at Worcester Technical High School. “It just didn’t add up for us.”
Hanover Theatre purchased the property in October 2014 for $1.1 million. The plan for the building includes a basement-level youth actors conservatory to be named after outgoing Hanover Insurance President Frederick H. Eppinger and his wife, Patricia, and second-floor administrative offices and function rooms.
“It’s an exciting space and it will work well for the right owner,” Brady said.
Siebels said the theater’s plans remain unchanged and the target is still to have a restaurant in place by autumn.
“We’re looking at it as an opportunity. It’s a different landscape than it was a couple of years ago when we first started looking for restaurant partners,” Siebels said. “There’s a lot more interest now and we’re taking our time to find the right partner.”
John Rinaldo, owner of The Muse, a cocktail and craft beer bar at 536 Main St., said a new attraction in that location would be a boon to nearby businesses that often struggle for consistent patronage.
“Business is sporadic when there are shows going on,” Rinaldo said. “Some nights are good, some are mediocre. It would be nice to have another place for people to go.
“I know the city is working on trying to get more businesses in the area, but when you hear that there’s a misfire on one it’s disappointing.”
Rinaldo said losing a possible draw like Sonoma is a difficult pill to swallow, despite the potential for more business at The Muse.
“In my opinion, it’s disconcerting. The fact that we were going to have a nice, high-end restaurant downtown, and now that’s not going to happen, it’s too bad,” Rinaldo said.
“People think that I would be happy about it, but honestly I’m not. I want more people in downtown Worcester. I’m disappointed. I was really hoping that we would have someone else to complement us down here.”
Siebels said the planned June 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the conservatory and the new theater offices and function rooms upstairs will include a final-push campaign to add to the $4 million already raised for the expansion project.
He said the event will also feature announcements regarding the new Southbridge Street plaza teased in the April 19 Worcester Redevelopment Authority Downtown Urban Revitalization plan and further neighborhood initiatives.
“We really want to get outside of the walls of the theater and work to create a destination out of the whole district,” Siebels said. “It’s not just about the work at the theater, it’s about the whole neighborhood.”
A performance studio in the Eppinger conservatory will be named after Mary C. DeFeudis, a longtime member of the theater’s board of directors and now an honorary director. The Myles & C. Jean McDonough Foundation and the Jeanne Y. Curtis Foundation also made naming gifts for the two function rooms upstairs.
“There’s a lot of activity in the district, but there are clearly some hurdles,” Siebels said.
Siebels said the Money Stop pawn shop, 526 Main St., and other businesses along the 500 block of Main Street aren’t “contributing to vitality of the district.”
One of those buildings, which includes The Muse, could be targeted for taking by eminent domain if the city and landlord can’t come to agreement on improvements.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with that and if the landlord decides to cooperate or if the city comes and tries to take the building over,” Rinaldo said.
“They’re in the hands of building owners that don’t see or aren’t willing to put the short-term investment for a long-term gain,” Siebels said. “I’m hopeful that the city’s plans will get them the extra motivation to do something with those buildings.”
Update: An earlier version of story misidentified the Jeanne Y. Curtis Foundation.