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It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since Raipher Pellegrino’s Lustra LLC development group won a bid from the City of Springfield to put up a Luxe Burger Bar at the former Visitor’s Center located on Hall of Fame Avenue (West Columbus Ave). The Intruder has posted repeatedly on this location’s continued absence of any signs of construction or development, and that lack of progress continues to this very day.
Peter Pappas, president of Alliance Group Real Estate Development and owner of the next-door LA Fitness complex (and former Basketball Hall of Fame), was the only other bidder on the Visitor Center property back in the fall of 2011. His bid fell about a quarter million dollars short of what Lustra LLC offered for the site – but then again, he actually intended to put a business there. It seems more clear now than ever that Pellegrino’s group is simply sitting on the property as the casino issue plays out in the city.
It was early last year, in May of 2012, when the Republican reported that Lustra had financing in place and construction of the Burger Bar would probably start that summer:
Pellegrino said Tuesday that financing is in place, and construction is planned this summer. Lustra is ‘shooting for’ a fall opening of the LUXE Burger Bar, which is patterned after a successful Rhode Island restaurant, he said.
Summer came and went. Fall came and went. Winter came and went.
A year-and-a-half after the city proclaimed Lustra LLC the winner on December 6, 2011, the former Visitor’s Center remains a tattered, dust-laden vacant building, entirely untouched by anyone with either a broom or shovel. There were signs early on, of course, that the bid to put up a Luxe Burger Bar there was perhaps a ruse.
First there was the $450,000 bid itself – double the amount of Pappas’ own $223,000 bid. At the time, Lustra said they intended to invest $2 million to build the Luxe Burger Bar. But for a company that had plunked down a half-million bucks last year, they remain strangely uncommitted and unrushed in earning a return on their investment. (This also brings up the alleged financing that Pellegrino said was in place. One would think their financer might be getting a little anxious about the business plan thus far.) In fact, Lustra LLC has yet to meet a deadline they themselves have publicly proposed, just as they missed the original preferred developer status deadline early last year and at least one extension thereafter.
Then there was the listed resident manager of the proposed burger joint, Jennifer Stefanik. Stefanik is not a restaurateur. Instead, she is – or at least was up until 2010 – an employee of Pellegrino’s working as an administrator for his company’s retirement benefits plan, the Pilgrim Group Employee Retirement Plan. It’s fairly safe to assume these days that her name is just a placeholder for the would-be (and perhaps not-going-to-be) restaurant.
Next we have the Rhode Island-based Luxe Burger Bar’s own website, which has a page in its “About Us” section that proudly proclaims a Springfield Luxe Burger Bar coming to Springfield MA in the spring of 2013. When they made the page late last year they probably thought the “Spring 2013” date was a safe and distant date to put there – and it coincided nicely with the City of Springfield’s plan for a referendum vote on the casino. But spring is here now, and there is still no activity on the property. One would also think that by now the supposed Springfield Luxe Burger Bar would have its own website in order to attract both future customers and employees.
Pappas, meanwhile, continues to write to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, inquiring about the lack of progress at both the former Visitors Center site and the former Court Square Hotel building in downtown Springfield, which he also bid on, losing out to local developer and Peter Pan Bus Lines CEO Peter Picknelly’s OPAL Real Estate group back in June of 2011. City officials, however, reportedly told Pappas back in May of 2012 that they were “satisfied with the efforts” of Lustra LLC – this despite the fact that no physical activity seems apparent at the site.
Springfield’s Chief Development Officer, Kevin Kennedy, repeated that vote of confidence after reportedly telling Pappas last October that “significant and satisfactory progress has been made on both projects.”
The City of Springfield must be aware by now that something is up with the Visitor’s Center property. (The latest story from the Republican on the Burger Bar has the developer now saying construction will be “begin soon.”) Not that they would be able to do much about it anyway, as the city sold the Visitor’s Center property to Lustra back in June of 2012.