Three months from now, when Hooters opens in place of Pepin Restaurant on Fourth Street N, it's doubtful anyone will recognize the former Spanish eatery.
In place of the cream-colored stucco building with a barrel-tile roof and faux plants painted on windowless walls, a sleek white, black and orange structure will emerge that is something of a cross between South Beach chic and a Steak n Shake.
Hooters, which will cost about $3 million to build, will have patio seating and an inside and outside bar.
"We are on schedule for a September opening," said Brett Heidel, the restaurant's project manager with Hawkeye Construction. About 20 people are working on the construction site.
It appears that little more than the shell of the former Pepin building is left standing, and the inside is gutted. Make that three-fourths of the shell since the southern exterior wall has been knocked down.
So why not just raze the whole thing and build from scratch?
"Sometimes it is cleaner to knock it all down," said Neil Kiefer, CEO for Hooters Management Corp. "Our contractor and architect made the decision to reduce the footprint of the building from 10,000 square feet to about [7,000 square feet], and it was economically prudent to keep the walls."
Three block walls, the slab and the floor were a good starting point, Heidel said.
Rick Dunn, the city's top building official, said Hooters won't escape any impact fees to compensate for the traffic it attracts by keeping part of the Pepin building intact. "They've renovated so much (of the existing building) that it kicks in the requirement to meet new codes," he added. "I was a builder in my former life, and I probably would have torn it down."
"Whether they demolished the building or rehabbed it, they still had to meet the current landscaping regulations, which they are doing," said city zoning official Philip Lazzara "We don't see any significant advantage for zoning reasons for keeping (part of the building) vs. starting from scratch."
Had they demolished the old building, the new building's footprint possibly would have had to be closer to the road, he said. Since Hooters never talked with the city about building a new structure, specific requirements weren't investigated.
There is also little or no benefit in terms of property appraisal and reduced real estate taxes derived from keeping part of an old building, said Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov. Maintaining some of the old building, though most of it is new, might depreciate the structure by five years or so in an appraisal and knock a few thousand off the tax value. The 2010 tax bill for the Pepin building was $21,000.
Although keeping some of the existing building saved money, certain parts did call for extra reinforcement, and that slowed construction slightly, Heidel said. But he is confident the wings and beer will be flowing in September.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.