Buffalo Wild Wings opened to the public for the first time Monday as the first tenant in the newly renovated Acorn Corner at the intersection of Main and DePeyster streets in downtown Kent.
The opening marks a milestone in the landmark building, where the upper floors have been vacant and condemned for nearly 40 years and the main floor has been empty and boarded up for more than a decade.
Monday also was the first time the public got the chance to see developer Ron Burbick deliver on his promise to restore the 1920s era structure after buying it from the city in November 2011.
A brief illness kept the developer from attending opening day for the restaurant, which boasts 55 TVs — including a 35 feet by 8 feet TV above the bar — and about 7,000 square feet of space between the main floor and mezzanine level.
Burbick said via email from his home in Florida Monday that much of the success in renovating the building should be credited to Robert and Matthew Pipoly, the father-and-son team that owns Kent's Buffalo Wild Wings.
"(They) have been major financial contributors to the overall success of the project," Burbick said. "Their early and continued support of the project has been steadfast throughout, and they have been a pleasure to work with — even when I had to tell them they couldn't have a giant gold buffalo on the roof."
More than a sports bar
Matthew Pipoly said his father was one of the earliest franchisees when he opened the Kent Buffalo Wild Wings, today a national chain with more than 1,000 locations that started about 20 years ago near Ohio State University.
Pipoly said they first started thinking about partnering with Burbick about two years ago as they approached the 20-year mark on their lease — March 2013 — for the sports bar's former locale on Franklin Avenue.
"When we got into that building, that was the prototype for Buffalo Wild Wings," he said.
The eatery's evolution towards higher ceilings, larger seating capacities and, of course, more TVs meant they had to find a new spot. Their former location, though successful, only had about 135 seats, a small kitchen and enough work for 35 to 40 employees.
"I knew that Ron was doing a lot of development in Kent," Pipoly said. "We originally looked at Fairmount Properties, but it just wasn’t a (good) fit for us. Basically we needed to find a building that suited us rather than a place we wanted to go. There’s not a lot of buildings in Kent that have 18-foot ceilings."
The expansion boosted seating numbers to 240, and as of opening day employment numbers doubled at Buffalo Wild Wings.
"We have more than 100 (employees) now," Pipoly said.
A design challenge
About 18 months ago Pipoly knew they wanted to be in the building, and that's when they sat down with Burbick to start hammering out lease details.
It wasn't until about four months later when architect Doug Fuller of Fuller Design Group knew things were final and they could start designing the space for the sports bar.
Fuller said his team started by sitting down with Pipoly to determine what they wanted and what requirements were set forth by the corporate headquarters for the restaurant chain.
The design process was complicated by the fact that they had to adhere to requirements set in stone by the Ohio Historical Society Preservation Office, which mandated certain design elements in order for the project to qualify for several million dollars in state and federal tax credits.
"We already had a certain, let’s say limit, on what we could do," Fuller said. "Because we only had a certain size footprint there."
All those restrictions left little wiggle room for decisions such as placement of the 35-foot TV.
"There was only one place it could go … where it could be seen by as many people as it could," Fuller said. "There’s no way it could go on the north wall or south wall. The only place we had was that west wall."
After that, putting the bar underneath the TV on the long west wall of the first-floor seemed the logical place, and the multiple seating rooms and staircase unfolded from there.
Pipoly said he couldn't be happier with the way the design turned out as a seamless blend of modern style and technology with a classic exterior.
"I knew this building was going to be really interesting when we got in here, but I did not have the vision that ... Fuller Design had," he said. "The vision that they had, and the creativity that they used to solve all the problems was just outstanding."
With the ground-floor restaurant open in Acorn Corner the attention turns now to the commercial and residential tenants soon to occupy the upper floors.
Michelle Hartman, vice president of The Burbick Companies, said the two tenants on the third floor, the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and Marathon Financial Services, should be finished with their move into the building by the end of the month.
The four luxury apartments on the fourth and fifth floors should be available for viewing as early as the end of May.
The apartments will feature bamboo flooring in the main living space, carpeting in the bedrooms and tile in the kitchen and baths. Stainless steel appliances and stacked washers and dryers will all come standard in the units, Hartman said.
"Ron mentioned he was putting a flat-screen (TV) in each unit," she said laughing. "I’m not sure about that one yet, but that’s what he said."
The apartments range in size from about 1,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet.
A quick rebirth
Even though the building languished for years its restoration came relatively quickly.
Fuller said the 14- or 15-month design time frame for Buffalo Wild Wings was aggressive.
"Given their needs, given the needs of getting a review for the tax credits on it, yeah I think it’s record speed," he said. "I don’t know if it is record speed, but I know down at the preservation office they kind of shook their heads when we told them what we were trying to accomplish. For a preservation project, in an old building that we had to do structural testing on … yeah, it was very fast."
Hartman said originally Burbick wanted to see the building open before the end of 2012.
She credits much of the pace to Metis Construction Services, the primary contractor for the restoration.
"These guys have been great to work with," Hartman said.
Marcel Clopton, the assistant project manager for Metis, said at the height of construction on the building 70 workers were inside toiling on the structure.
The construction firm only had a six-month window from start of internal construction to Monday's opening of the restaurant.
Clopton said the firm was able to include small details that preserve the historic character of the building. The base board molding on all the internal, exterior walls is the original design that would have been found in the building when it opened in the 1920s — the same goes for the window sills. And all of the window frames are original.
More to come
The building opened with little fanfare but big lunch and dinner crowds Monday.
And there's more to come.
The last piece of the building is the basement, which existing plans show a wine and jazz bar occupying.
Not all of the exterior signs are hung yet. And small details, including the historical marker, haven't been affixed to the brick facade.
Fuller said that with the restoration nearly fully finished it's enough for Kent residents to see what the building's future holds.
"I just think it’s an incredibly important thing for towns like Kent to preserve their heritage when they make these huge new moves forward," he said. "To have lost the building would have been a huge loss. I think the fact that preservation is part of Kent’s future is very important."