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Polka Dot Diner Owner Wins Site Development Plan OK, Eyes Summer Opening

  • The Polka Dot diner building in downtown White River Junction, Vt., on April. 23, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

White River Junction — The Polka Dot diner building is a step closer to reopening after its new owner won site development plan approval on Monday night from the Hartford Planning Commission.

The move could lead to a reopening of the postage stamp-sized restaurant, which closed four years ago, after interior renovations authorized by the site plan are done.

Following a short period of questions from commission members, Mike Davidson’s real estate property company, Execusuite, was granted a zoning permit to begin refurbishing the 1,088-square-foot downtown building that has been empty and idle since 2014.

But a representative for Davidson told the commission that the building’s exterior is pretty much going to remain as it is and no significant alterations are planned.

“We are, at heart, preservationists,” said Tim Sidore, general manager of Ledgeworks, which manages Execusuite commercial and residential properties in White River Junction and Lebanon. “We’re not really making any changes on the exterior, other than cleaning it up.”

“We’re excited to bring this little piece of White River back in line,” he added.

Sidore said that he is in discussion with a couple of possible tenants, but declined to identify them. He said the aim is to have the diner leased by summer to take advantage of the influx of pedestrians expected with the summer vacation season.

Reopening the Polka Dot building roughly will follow the opening of two other new storefronts on North Main Street: Little Istanbul, a shop owned by Tuckerbox owners Jackie and Vural Oktay that will sell imported items and handcrafts from Turkey; and Juel Juice & Smoothies, a juice and smoothie bar owned by Julie Sumanis and Elena Taylor, who operate a juice cart of the same name.

Both storefronts are going in on the ground floor of the new Bridge & Main apartment complex being built by Bill Bittinger.

Commission member Bruce Riddle voiced a concern about the potential for noise generated by customers at the diner, given that it would be adjacent to an apartment building, especially during nighttime hours.

“I’ve been in cities where you have diners open 24/7…, so the question is … how are we going to protect the new tenants?” he asked.

Sidore replied: “We have quite a lot of experience with mixed-use buildings. It’s part of our scope and duty as property manager to work with the tenant. … I would counsel a prospective (Polka Dot) tenant to meet with the (apartment) tenants” to learn about their concerns and explain what would be done to minimize noise.

“That’s a reasonable answer,” Riddle said. “I encourage that … it only takes one angry tenant.”

Sidore said they would like the tenant to keep the name “Polka Dot,” given the diner’s long history, which dates back to 1925.

Following the meeting, Sidore told the Valley News that “our very strong preference” is that whoever operates the diner retain the Polka Dot name.

“It’s iconic,” Sidore said. “As redevelopers and preservationists, we’d strongly encourage the name and sign be kept as is.”

Davidson bought the Polka Dot building from previous owner Mary Shatney earlier this year. Shatney had the building on the market for several years, but potential buyers shied away because the 2,400-square-foot parcel is owned by Canadian National Railway, raising concerns about the stability of the lease. But Sidore said Execusuite has good relations with the railway, with whom it has negotiated on other property agreements in White River Junction and with whom it has signed a lease agreement for the Polka Dot parcel.

“They answer your phone call?” Riddle said about the railroad company, alluding to its reputation for not easily responding to inquiries. “Good for you.”

Sidore suggested that might be because Execusuite has something the railroad company wants.

“We send them a check,” Sidore explained.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.