Popular restaurant could open in next spring, with luck

by: CHASE ALLGOOD - A small crowd gathered Monday to celebrate the rebuilding of Prime Time restaurant, including (from left to right) Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, Forest Grove City Manager Michael Sykes, developer John Crosley, Prime Time owners Ed Gilbertz and Greg Jansen, and Joan Gillman and Rick Roby.Last November, the day before Thanksgiving, a fire broke out in the kitchen of Prime Time, a popular Forest Grove eatery.

In the wee morning hours, the fire quickly took hold and completely destroyed the building, located at the intersection of Yew Street and Pacific Avenue.

The fire put 50 people out of work and left a hole in the city's dining scene. Prime Time, which built up a following over the 15 years since co-owners Ed Gilbertz and Greg Jansen formed the company, had a lot of fans.

On Monday, they had some good news. Prime Time is coming back.

The two owners, along with developer John Crosley, joined a gaggle of Forest Grove public officials, local business owners and Prime Time regulars for a groundbreaking ceremony on the lot next to the restaurant's old location. Prime Time's coming back, bigger than ever.

"It's been a long time coming and I'm really glad folks have stuck with us," Jansen said.

Fundraisers aid workers

Residents put their money where their missing lunch spot was, too, raising thousands of dollars at various fundraisers to help out-of-work Prime Time employees buy Christmas presents and feed their families during the cold winter months after the fire.

But now, the restaurant is on track to reopen in the spring of 2013.

Prime Time's owners started talking to Crosley about building a new restaurant shortly after the old building — which they did not own — burned down.

They soon figured out that moving to Crosley's parcel of land, one lot to the east of the restaurant's old location, would afford them more space for parking and dining areas, including an expanded banquet room.

"Their prime thinking was that they weren't going to be able to build what they needed," Crosley said of the move.

Crosley, who last led the development of a subdivision near Forest Gale Heights called Holscher Farm, has been working with a bevy of agencies since January to get the building permitted and moving forward.

Because the land sits along the border of Forest Grove and Cornelius, he had to deal with both cities. But that was a breeze compared to the red tape Crosley said he faced from Clean Water Services, the county sewer agency.

Crosley said the project hit a snag when Clean Water Services identified a wetland on his property, which he's owned for 30 years, that needed to be mitigated. In the end, the plan led to a reworked site plan in which the restaurant will dominate the northeast corner of the lot, while the west end of the lot remains as green space.

The final plan should make the new restaurant, which will contain more than 8,000 square feet and feature a mezzanine level with space for upstairs dining and a couple of pool tables, pop out from the site as commuters drive by.

"I think it'll be a great street impact," Crosley said. "The dominant elevation is the west elevation as you're driving down the highway."

Crosley said the overall project took longer than he thought, but he got help from state officials who sympathized with his effort to get the Prime Time employees back to work.

"I said, 'Look, I'm not playing any games, I'm trying to get 50 people back to work,'" Crosley said, "which seemed to work."

He said city officials were helpful with the project, but county transportation development taxes had a big impact on the development, totaling $150,000. All told, Crosley said the project incurred $308,000 in fees.

In the end, though, the project will put Gilbertz and Jansen in charge of their destiny on the site. The Prime Time owners will buy the property and the new building once Crosley is finished with the development. That will bring a happy end to the horror story of the fire, Crosley said.

"It's one of those things where, it was sort of a popular community place and it burned just before Thanksgiving so you had a sympathy factor," Crosley said. "I'd be in Vernonia and people would ask me about it. It's amazing."

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