Mys­tic Grill: ‘Te­dious work’

Con­struc­tion con­tin­ues on themed res­tu­ar­ant

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Ap­par­ently, 107-year-old bank build­ings aren’t easy to con­vert into mod­ern-day restau­rants.

First of all, those 3-foot­thick bank vault walls are hard to bore through. Se­condly, those old brick walls can’t be de­pended on to carry too much weight, which ex­plains the gi­ant crane in­stalling eight, 40-foot­long steel beams in the un­der-con­struc­tion Mys­tic Grill restau­rant Thurs­day in prepa­ra­tion for the planned rooftop din­ing area.

“Imag­ine cut­ting into a bank vault from the 1900s; that’s the kind of thing we run into ev­ery day,” said builder Steve Small­wood. “The unique­ness of the build­ing works our brains ev­ery day. If you move one thing, you will af­fect three oth­ers. On newer con­struc­tion, it’s wide open; this is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.”

Small­wood apol­o­gized to any­one who was in­con­ve­nienced by the crane work.

“It took us a lit­tle longer than an­tic­i­pated, but

we have all of the col­umns in place. It’s some­thing that’s te­dious work, like thread­ing a nee­dle, like a 40-foot-long nee­dle go­ing in a 6-inch hole through the whole struc­ture all the way to the base­ment,” Small­wood said.

Crews have been work­ing for the past four to five weeks to re­frame the build­ing and try to bring all the struc­tural com­po­nents up to mod­ern-day code, Small­wood said. Steel is be­ing used to re­in­force the build­ing to en­sure the old brick walls aren’t bear­ing much weight; Char­lie Hen­der­son with Hopi Con­tract­ing in Cov­ing­ton is han­dling the steel work.

While some other old build­ings on the square haven’t sur­vived ren­o­va­tions, con­trac­tor Adam Wil­son said that’s ex­actly why builders are en­sur­ing the Mys­tic Grill is struc­turally sound.

An­other dif­fi­culty was ba­si­cally com­bin­ing two build­ings into once, since the build­ing had been sub­di­vided and the floors and other ele­ments didn’t line up, Small­wood said. Over the next few weeks, the elec­tri­cal wiring, plumb­ing, heat­ing, air conditioning and ven­ti­la­tion, fire sprin­klers and other me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents will be in­stalled, he said, along with the rooftop deck.

The builders met with the Cov­ing­ton fire mar­shal and fire chief Thurs­day to show them the pro­ject and talk about fire sprin­klers to see if there’s any al­ter­na­tive to putting them in the ceil­ing and putting a whole bunch of holes in the his­toric me­tal roof. One thought was to have sprin­klers on the side walls in­stead.

While bor­ing through the vault to in­stall plumb­ing was dif­fi­cult, Dennis Young, owner of Dennis Young Plumb­ing, said even drilling through some of the wood has bro­ken drill bits, be­cause the orig­i­nal rough-cut lum­ber is thick and nearly as hard as pet­ri­fied wood.

“It’s a big or­deal to get plumb­ing into this thing,” Young said, not­ing that all of the sys­tems be­ing in­stalled are com­pletely new.

Putting up sheetrock will come af­ter the me­chan­i­cal guts are in­stalled, Small­wood said, which he hopes will hap­pen in next three to four weeks.

Things have moved slowly, but that’s part of the dif­fi­culty of an old build­ing, Hen­der­son said. When Hopi was work­ing on the large arched win­dows and re­mov­ing a piece of ply­wood there, bricks started fall­ing, so the arches needed to be re­in­forced with steel.

“That was the tricky and danger­ous part, when you go saw­ing in an old brick build­ing. We cut a 13-foot hole in that wall right there. It was te­dious; it was scary, but it’s all gone well,” Hen­der­son said.

Small­wood said nearly ev­ery com­pany that’s worked on the pro­ject has been lo­cal, and that’s been im­por­tant to the own­ers and work­ers.

“Ev­ery­body on our pro­ject wants to be on the proj- ect. This is not just a job, it’s re­viv­ing the square,” Small­wood said. “I’m kind of a re­tired builder and de­vel­oper, and I did (this pro­ject) just be­cause of the square. I’ve watched it strug­gle for 10 years, and I think this might get it a jolt. Maybe some­one across the street can build some­thing else (in the for­mer May­field Ace Hard­ware build­ing).”

Small­wood said he’d love to see an­other restau­rant in the May­field build­ing to bring more peo­ple down­town. He said he hoped the in­vest­ment in the Mys­tic Grill by Mayor Ron­nie John­ston and his wife, Kel­ley, and Angi and John Bezs­born, who also own Bull­ri­tos, will in­spire oth­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a pre­vi­ous pro­ject as­sess­ment sub­mit­ted to the state for a $250,000 loan, the pro­ject was ex­pected to cost $2.27 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $1.38 mil­lion for re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the build­ing, $475,000 for prop­erty ac­qui­si­tion, $400,000 for fur­ni­ture, equip­ment and fur­nish­ings and $18,500 for de­sign. The own­ers are aim­ing for a fall open­ing.

“We want to re­vive the square. There’s never go­ing to be a (J.C.) Poole’s and Belk again, it will have to be restau­rants and places where peo­ple want to come – a des­ti­na­tion,”

Small­wood said. “It’s go­ing to be worth the wait.”

Dar­rell Everidge/the Cov­ing­ton News

A crane helps work­ers build up the roof of the fu­ture Mys­tic Grill in down­town Cov­ing­ton Thurs­day.

Dar­rell Everidge /The Cov­ing­ton News

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