Westerville News & Public Opinion

City selling tea house site to Northstar Cafe

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Four years after Westerville purchased the former Kyoto Tea House and Shinto Shrine, the site is one step closer to becoming the next Northstar Cafe.

City Council last week heard the first reading of a resolution that would sell the properties at 20 W. Plum St., 103-107 S. State St., 109 S. State St. and 99 S. State St. to Organic Trails Cafe LLC for $400,000.

The plan already has gone through the Westerville Planning Commission and Uptown Review Board.

The sale would mark the end of a very long road for the city, one that Assistant City Manager Julie Colley said was hard to see coming.

"It's hard to believe that this journey began May 4, 2010, four years ago," she said at council's May 20 meeting. "That night, council authorized the purchase of the first tea house property and started us on this journey.

"We eventually acquired both (properties). Both were in foreclosure and headed to sheriff's sale. There was an opportunity for us to take control of these two properties and assemble two more. With that we put together a tea house redevelopment committee, we released RFP (request for proposals) to look for people to redevelop this property."

Colley said the plan to redevelop the whole site and be a part of the Westerville community were the difference-makers.

"Ultimately, through that process, Northstar Cafe didn't just want to be a tenant; they wanted to own the property and redevelop all of it," she said.

The new owners would assume all redevelopment responsibilities, would make an effort to keep the tea house properties' history intact and would receive a $25,000 loan from the city's Westerville Industry and Commerce Corp. for the project.

"One of the things that was important was for us to keep and maintain part of the tea house memory, the history that was there," Colley said. "They will, as part of the development, take the Mount Fuji mural that was inside and install that as part of their development."

The tea house was built by the Henderson family in 1958 as an homage to Japanese culture, and a replica Shinto shrine was added in 1964.

For decades, it was a mainstay for local school groups but fell into disrepair after the family sold it in 2005. The shrine was removed that year and put into storage at Franklin Park Conservatory.

The city purchased the property for $125,000 and demolished some buildings in early 2012. At that time, the tile Mount Fuji mural was saved in a warehouse.

Northstar co-owner Darren Malhame's commitment to the city is what drew many to him, city officials said.

Councilman Mike Heyeck, who also sits on the planning commission, said he was grateful to have someone so committed to the city.

"During his presentation at planning commission, I was pleased with his genuine interest to be in Westerville and to be a good neighbor in Westerville. So I'm pleased that he's bringing the business to Westerville," Heyeck said.

The city is in the process of demolishing the remaining building, which is expected to be removed by the end of May.

The resolution to sell the property will have two more readings at council. City administrators expect the sale to close in July.

Northstar Cafe has three existing central Ohio locations, in Beechwold, the Short North and Easton Town Center. The owners also own Third & Hollywood in Grandview Heights.

In November 2013, voters approved two liquor options for the site, one for weekday sales and another for Sunday sales.

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