After 51 years of selling barbecue-sauce-slathered burgers with a side of putt-putt golf, the iconic Steakburger & Golf-O-Rama restaurant is on the chopping block once again.
But with a tough economy, stringent land-use regulations and increasing development costs, the only question is how long it will take the Hazel Dell restaurant's owners to find a willing buyer for the quirky, fun-filled landmark that dates to the community's early history as Vancouver's first suburb.
A developer's plans submitted to Clark County's planning department would demolish the restaurant and its miniature golf course at 7120 N.E. Highway 99, east of Interstate 5, to make room for a new retail center.
The proposal, submitted by Vancouver-based MAJ Development Corp., calls for two drive-through restaurants and two retail buildings. The development would be on the Steakburger site and an adjoining parcel at 609 N.E. Repass Road.
It's not certain whether the deal will go through, but the restaurant's owners are clearly eager to sell. The Steakburger site's husband-and-wife owners, Bob and Merilyn Condon, now in their 70s and semi retired, have tried several times in recent years to sell their property. But potential buyers ran into roadblocks, including the recent economic downturn and the county's new, stricter design standards for development along Highway 99.
"The county has stopped us twice before," said Merilyn Condon, who confirmed this week that yet another developer is proposing to buy and redevelop her restaurant's site.
She will sell the property "If they meet our price," she said. "If they don't, then no."
Condon would not disclose the asking price for the property, which makes up about 2 acres on Highway 99 opposite 72nd Street.
Condon's parents Harvey and Ruth Johnson purchased the Steakburger in 1962, an era when suburbs were designed around automobiles and abundant parking.
Development rules in those days did not require landscaping or set limits on parking, said Jan Bazala, a planner with Clark County's Community Development Department. He said today's new design requirements for Highway 99 allow no more than 50 percent of a commercial property to be used for parking.
The current regulations, adopted in 2009, are aimed at making Highway 99 less dominated by automobiles, he said. The requirements can affect whether a project pencils out, especially when it comes to redeveloping a smaller site. Those new standards may also affect plans to enlarge a McDonalds restaurant next door to the Steakburger, said Val Hadwin, who co-owns the venue as part of a 15-restaurant McDonalds chain with her business partner-husband, Matt Hadwin.
Val Hadwin said the Hazel Dell restaurant is the oldest in her company's chain and among the oldest nationwide. Because its size is outmoded, the Hadwins hope to tear down the older restaurant and build a new one next year. Plans for the new restaurant site could include a portion of the Steakburger property, said Hadwin, of Vancouver-based North Star Restaurants Inc.
"The McDonalds Corporation, on our behalf, is very interested in acquiring a little bit more land north of our site to grow," she said.
Merilyn Condon said she doesn't expect the Steakburger site to sell right away. In the meantime, several updates were made to the restaurant and its miniature golf course over the summer.
"We'll continue operating the restaurant as long as we can," she said.
Condon said Steakburger & Golf-O-Rama employs between 20 and 25 full- and part-time workers.
The restaurant received countywide recognition on its 50th birthday last year. A resolution signed by Clark County commissioners declared the venue "good food, good family fun and a great place for a first date."
Longtime Hazel Dell resident Bob Kadow said he would hate to see Steakburger go, calling the venue an integral part of the Hazel Dell scene.
"It's probably one of the better burgers in Clark County," said Kadow, 72, a 1959 graduate of Fort Vancouver High School who now belongs to the car group North County Cruisers. The group sometimes meets up at the Steakburger.
"It is definitely part of Hazel Dell," Kadow said. "I get tired of people tearing down all of our old buildings and putting in new stuff."
County planners will discuss the development proposal at 9 a.m. Aug. 15. with applicant MAJ Development Corp., a Vancouver-based retail developer and the preferred West Coast developer for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. MAJ Development owner Michael Jenkins could not be reached for comment. His company has so far developed more than 50 convenience stores for 7-Eleven, some with attached retail projects, including several stores in Clark County.
Editor's note: This story has been modified to reflect a correction. Owners of the McDonalds expect to demolish and rebuild the restaurant regardless of whether the company purchases a portion of the Steakburger site.
Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner, http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or firstname.lastname@example.org