Business owner has plan for old Newport drive-in dinerIn its heyday, the former Steve’s Newport Drive-In – it was an A&W before that – served up comfort food for the hungry, automobile-bound masses: Coney dogs, greasy onion rings and frosty root beer floats, right to customers’ car windows. Now, a Newport business owner says he’s ready to redevelop the vacant Hastings Avenue business
It sits empty and overgrown, a rusting, paint-chipped reminder of an older, roadside Newport.
In its heyday, the former Steve’s Newport Drive-In – it was an A&W before that – served up comfort food for the hungry, automobile-bound masses: Coney dogs, greasy onion rings and frosty root beer floats, right to customers’ car windows.
Now, a Newport business owner says he’s ready to redevelop the vacant Hastings Avenue business – a sign, city officials hope, of a rebirth to come along a commercial corridor hit hard by the massive Highway 61 reconstruction that took away easy access to its businesses.
“Unfortunately, I’m not the restaurant kind of guy,” said Tim Murphy, the owner of the former Steve’s Newport Drive-In property since 2006. “I get people asking me all the time, ‘When are you going to reopen the drive-in?’”
Instead, the 54-year-old Murphy – who has owned Courtesy Car Rental, another Hastings Avenue business, for more than 20 years – plans to pour more than $150,000 into the property to gut the small building, tear down a canopy that once sheltered diners and their automobiles, and subdivide the structure into retail and office space.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Mayor Tim Geraghty said recently.
The city of Newport has – rather unsuccessfully – tried to spur redevelopment along the Hastings Avenue corridor that runs along Highway 61 on the city’s east side since major highway reconstruction took away stoplights and at-grade crossings in favor of an interstate-style overpass at Glen Road. But as the economy faltered so too did the city’s hopes for a quick rebound from years of highway and Wakota Bridge reconstruction.
Despite the altered landscape of Hastings Avenue, Murphy – who plans to convert one half of the refurbished building into a gold and bullion business – said the former drive-in site offers a good commercial opportunity.
“The access isn’t what it once was for a business but it’s comparable to just about every other place now,” he said.
Murphy has tried before to redevelop the property he says he purchased for roughly $250,000 in 2006. The Newport City Council nixed his efforts to move his rental business to the old A&W site in 2008 saying it wasn’t an appropriate use for the property, a conclusion Murphy disagreed with.
“It’s been vacant ever since,” he said. “Now it’s really come to a point where I really need to renovate it or tear it down, get rid of it.”
This time, however, Newport officials expressed whole-hearted support for Murphy’s plan. City Administrator Brian Anderson said the proposal for retail and office space is what the city had planned for the site and has already received preliminary approval. City officials are also discussing offering Murphy an up-to $10,000 forgivable loan as part of a Newport Economic Development Authority program.
Redevelopment of the former Steve’s and A&W “is what we’re hoping for along [Hastings Avenue],” Anderson said. “There would be a couple other properties it would be nice to see improved as well.”
He said final approval of the proposal and EDA loan could come this month.
With the opening of a new Napa Auto Parts retail building nearby, Anderson said more businesses and developers are taking note of Newport’s main commercial district. Murphy said his project could help start the redevelopment ball rolling.
“I believe it will,” Murphy said. “I’ve said before – and I think people will agree with me – is all that needs to happen is a couple new [developments] to happen in Newport and it’ll start the process.”