Turning on the Lighthouse 

A group of arts-boosters-turned-restaurateurs plans to reopen Manchester's famous diner.

click to enlarge news12_lighthouse_100.jpg

A long-closed Manchester-area dining institution seems destined for a new life focusing on its past.

A group of local investors doing business as Prodigy Partnership has entered into a contract to purchase the former Lighthouse Diner at Hull and 13th streets, with plans to start serving blue-plate specials again in about a year.

The front portion of the nearly 4,000-square-foot property will be preserved as close as possible in look and feel to when it was last open in the late 1960s, says D. Hayden Fisher, an attorney at Shaffer & Cabell and managing member of Prodigy.

"The idea is to bring it back as a vintage diner" that will include a museum showcase, says Fisher, who also is a co-founder of arts booster group OPUS.

The remainder of the building will be renovated to mimic a "West Coast-style" food and entertainment experience with an interactive audio-visual component, Fisher says. Also planned is a fully functional rooftop deck, including a small kitchen, full-service bar and small garden where fresh vegetables for the restaurant would be grown.

"It will be completely different — not your typical bar scene," Fisher says.

The building's interior is in surprisingly good shape considering how long it's been dormant, Fisher says, noting that much of the original Hamilton Beach food preparation equipment is still in place and may be usable. The original Lighthouse, which opened in 1949, closed in 1982. "Remarkably," he says, "everything is in pretty good shape."

"It's a time capsule" of the 1940s to 1960s Richmond diner experience, "that's for sure," says local real estate developer Tom Robinson, who purchased the Lighthouse property in 2004 to preserve the historic restaurant, which he frequented as a younger man.

Robinson says the Lighthouse generated frequent buyer inquiries, but he decided not to sell until he met with Prodigy and was convinced of its members' sincerity about respecting the Lighthouse's history. "They are the only ones I would have considered selling it to," he says.

Neither Fisher nor Robinson would say how much Prodigy offered for the property, though Fisher estimated as much as $1.5 million might be spent before the Lighthouse reopens. The building and land are assessed at $56,000.

Fisher's fellow Prodigy investors include Jake Crocker, a partner at Martin Branding Worldwide and co-founder of OPUS; Mike Hanky, a commercial real estate developer with JRH Corp.; Jim Kennedy, of information technology firm Providge Consulting; and Patrick McLynn, general manager of Metro Grill in the Fan.

"Old Manchester is one of the areas that are being rejuvenated, and we want to be a part of that," Fisher says.

Prodigy isn't limiting its interests to that area, however. It also has contracts on three properties in the 300 block of East Broad Street, which is developing momentum as a result of new art galleries, restaurants and condominiums. Commercial and retail uses are planned for those properties, Fisher says, but it was too early to get into details.

Another Prodigy deal is in the works with the Alliance for the Performing Arts, which is planning to reopen the Hippodrome Theatre. Fisher says Prodigy is working on a deal to become the "food and restaurant" vendor at the Jackson Ward theater. S

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