The city of Mulberry hopes to offer more than its current fast-food dining options for its residents and visitors alike with a new food venue dubbed “Depot 303.”
City Manager Rick Johnson said he hopes up to seven micro-restaurants will lease space there with a shared restaurant-quality dining area in the former Badcock Furniture warehouse where appliances were once repaired.
The site at 303 NW 1st Ave. is within the vicinity of the historic Gem Theater, a performing arts and film screening venue about one and a half blocks from the Depot.
The project is on a course for completion by late 2023 and would share a parking lot and street parking with the Gem Theater, which until a few years ago was owned by the International Chemical Workers Union representing workers at local phosphate mines.
In recent years, the union laborers have hashed out grievances about working conditions and demanded wage hikes upstairs in a newly furbished meeting space, while in the rest of the Gem there is now a fully restored and functioning theater.
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Johnson came up with the idea for the foodie project – a vision that was sparked as fuel prices soared and he thought food truck vendors might want to save on gas and lease space in the 14,000-square-foot warehouse.
“You see these food truck events all the time with people putting their homemade flair on what they are making,” Johnson said. “As gas prices skyrocketed, these people maybe want to get off the road and not give up their dream in food service.”
Depot 303 would provide culinary entrepreneurs with a place out of the weather, similar to The Joinery in Lakeland, he said.
The city paid $75,000 for the property with Mulberry Community Redevelopment Agency funds. The property changed hands on Aug. 12 from owner W.S. Badcock.
A pre-bid meeting was held Nov. 29, an on-site tour was held and proposals from project teams are due at Mulberry City Hall by Jan. 3. The renovations could start within a month or so after bids are reviewed.
Tenants are also jockeying for positions. So far, The Depot has sparked about a half dozen interested food vendors, Johnson said.
“Something we have been talking about for a while is our downtown revitalization,” said District 4 Commissioner Maria McClintock, who grew up in the city and is an alum of Mulberry High School. “That is something Mulberry is lacking is a central downtown.”
The first step was the Gem Theater, which was nearly demolished and was in similar condition as the warehouse before the city purchased the property, she said. “Now it’s a functioning theater again.”
The vision includes more quality-of-life options for residents including places to eat and entertainment options at venues within the city limits, said McClintock who is a member of Mulberry’s Creative Coalition, which works with residents to come up with innovative solutions for the city.
With the closure during the height of the Covid pandemic, Carol’s Café had been the city’s only locally owned restaurant. But for now Mulberry has a few fast-food chains, including McDonald’s and Subway.
While the city is undergoing rapid growth in housing and population, the vision for the venue is to cater to families and embody the area’s Southern hospitality, McClintock said.
The price tag for The Depot had originally been in the $1 million to $2 million range but with inflation and the current economic climate it may be difficult to stick to those numbers, Johnson said.
“We would probably like to get this up and running and then turn it over to a management company,” Johnson said regarding the plan’s long-term vision. “We do not want to be in the restaurant business. We’re doing this to drive revitalization.”
Paul Nutcher can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Downtown Mulberry to establish new food place as part of redevelopment
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