After a fire last year, businesses on Warner Robins’ Commercial Circle are moving ahead and hoping the area comes back stronger than ever.
“We’re cemented down here, we’re circle as I like to say,” Ken McCall, the owner of McCall’s said on Wednesday.
Businesses like his on Commercial Circle are looking ahead nearly 8 months after a fire thinned their numbers.
During Thanksgiving week of 2016 a fire tore through a portion of the Circle destroying a night club called Oceans and damaging the Greek Village Restaurant. The fire left the other businesses, like McCall’s, with an empty feeling.
“Something’s missing, you look across there for something you saw for 27 years, you know me personally, and something that I basically remember my whole life. That you know that large building being there and you look over there and it’s not there,” McCall said.
He says it’s been a bit slower since the Greek restaurant had to close. Not necessarily at his place, but he’s noticed a smaller crowd across Watson Boulevard. McCall said that a successful business like the Greek Village being gone, hurts everyone.
Monta Smith has run her grooming shop on that side of the Circle since the early 90s. She agreed, saying that places like the Greek Village Restaurant help bring in new customers at other businesses.
But even with two neighboring businesses gone, she says business is doing alright.
“It’s about average, of course definitely a down time with the no building there but it’s about average other than that,” Smith said.
She says she’s heard Oceans is gone for good.
“Oh no they’re definitely not coming back. The landlord has talked about putting in more shops, then somebody else said it might be a parking lot. So, we’re just not sure at this point yet,” Smith added.
Smith said she doesn’t care what comes into the empty space, she just wanted people to know she’s there, open, and ready for business.
The landowner was not available for comment.
At their other location on Watson Boulevard, the Greek Village was dealing with a busy lunch crowd. One of the co-owners, Jose Gutierrez, says they haven’t decided if they’ll return to the Circle when renovations on their closed restaurant are done.
He said the fire hurt their business and they had to let some employees from the damaged location go. There were crews working on the outside of the building on Wednesday.
Now, Gutierrez says they’re considering putting a second restaurant in other parts of the County instead of going back to the circle. He says they’ve considered a space near Rigby’s and Freedom Field, or in Perry.
Mayor Randy Toms says revitalizing the Circle is a work in progress after the City created a special tax allocation district in 2016.
“Creating a tax allocation district is a big deal, then it gives us that incentive to move forward, to know that there are developers, local and outside the local area, that have expressed an interest in getting involved in some of the projects that we’re going to have going down in the TAD,” Toms said in his office Wednesday.
He said their goal is to sell property to developers who can tear down and rebuild to give Warner Robins more of a downtown feel across from Robins Air Force Base.
The City owns about 5 or 6 properties on the Circle, according to Toms.
Toms said so far no TAD money or projects have been implemented across the district, or specifically on Commercial Circle.
The Mayor also said the current empty lot is a concern but also is an opportunity for an excited investor or developer to come in and transform it into something even better.
But for now, at least some of the businesses on the Circle are left without a neighbor.