City, Wintzell’s reach deal on incentives

Published 2:49 pm Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Timberland Log Homes building on Greenville’s Interstate Drive will soon give way to Wintzell’s Oyster House.

City officials announced Monday night that a deal has been reached with Bob Donlon, Wintzell’s Oyster House CEO, that will pave the way for the restaurant to open in the Camellia City in May.

According to city attorney Richard Hartley, the City of Greenville Downtown Development Authority has agreed to purchase the property along Interstate Drive and construct the restaurant. Wintzell’s will then lease the property.

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“Wintzell’s will pay monthly rent that is sufficient to pay the debt,” Hartley said.

According to Hartley, the Downtown Development Authority will purchase the property for $325,000 from Donlan, who purchased the land in December of 2011.

The City of Greenville has also agreed to give Wintzell’s an incentive grant. It will allow Wintzell’s to keep 50 percent of the city sales tax the restaurant generates until it reaches $320,000.

“In this day and age, you’ve got to give people something to get them to bring their business to your town,” Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said. “That being said, I don’t really feel like we’re giving anything up. We’re going to own a very valuable piece of property. We’re going to own the building, and they’ll be paying for it. To start with we’ll be giving up 50 percent of the sales tax, but at some point we’re going to be getting all of that. I think this is a good move for the City of Greenville.”

McLendon said he expects construction to begin on the building in February.

In July of 2012, Donlon said he was looking for a developer to purchase his property along Interstate Drive, develop the site and construct the restaurant with the goal of leasing the property back to Wintzell’s Oyster House.

It’s a model Donlon said he has used with all but one of his 10 restaurants.

“It’s very difficult for an owner/operator to get the bank to finance a project like this,” Donlon said. “Developers do this for a living. They know exactly what to do, especially when it comes to financing the construction side of things. We’ve found over the years that this is really the best way to do it. We want to be restaurant operators. We don’t want to own a lot of buildings.”

In December of 2011, city officials announced that Wintzell’s Oyster House planned to open a restaurant in Greenville, and that the restaurant would likely be open by the summer of 2012 in order to capitalize on the beach traffic along Interstate 65.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” McLendon said. “I’m excited that we’re finally to this point. I think this is going to be a great deal for the city. I really believe this is going to help us develop the property on the other side of the Hampton Inn and behind the Comfort Inn where we’re constructing the road. I think this is going to have a big impact on the city.”

Wintzell’s, which was founded in 1938 by J. Oliver Wintzell, has locations throughout Alabama and Florida. The eatery is know for fresh Gulf seafood, and was named in Willard Scott’s All-American Cookbook for the best oysters and crabs.

According to Donlon, Wintzell’s Oyster House would likely employ 125 workers at its Greenville restaurant.

McLendon believes the restaurant’s impact could extend far beyond the number of jobs created.

“I think Wintzell’s would become a destination place for people traveling up and down the Interstate,” McLendon said. “It would certainly pull of a lot of people off the Interstate who would probably stop at our gas stations and fill up and spend money at other businesses around town. This is big for us.”