POSTED ON OCTOBER 20, 2010:
Rollin' on the River
Dittus dancing along as his projects look to improve the Arkansas River scene
“It’s been remarkable,” Dittus said. “I’ve never been involved in anything like this. We usually go in with duct tape and baling wire, then go to work. But this has been a complicated deal. It’s been really a learning experience for me.”
It's now more than a year past its original targeted opening date, but the new Blue Rose Café bar and grill planned for the east bank of the Arkansas River finally is close to becoming a reality.
Tom Dittus of Swamphouse Partners LLC, the group chosen by the Tulsa River Parks Authority in March 2009 to develop the old River's Edge Bistro site on 3.8 acres at 1924 Riverside Drive into a full-service restaurant, said work on the new eatery began July 6 with the steel structure now in place and concrete being poured.
"We're getting real close to putting up walls, plumbing, electricity and doing the equipment install," he said. "Then it's just a matter of getting the décor in there and training the staff."
The 3,000-square-foot project is intended to serve as a new version of the popular Blue Rose Café that operated in Brookside for several years before closing in 2001. The new Blue Rose is being constructed on piers on the river, one of the elements in the plan that led to the delays in its construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally approved the project in November 2009.
In its winning proposal to River Parks officials, Swamphouse Partners originally had projected an opening date of September 2009. That date came and went, along with several other targeted opening dates, as Swamphouse negotiated a lease with River Parks officials and sought approval for the project from the Corps of Engineers and the Board of Adjustment.
Finally, with all that paperwork secured, work began over the summer and has progressed rapidly since that time under the auspices of the general contractor, Crossland Heavy Construction. Dittus declined to speculate about when the project might be complete, but he said watching the building go up has been an exciting experience.
"It's been remarkable," he said. "I've never been involved in anything like this. We usually go in with duct tape and baling wire, then go to work. But this has been a complicated deal. It's been really a learning experience for me."
Dittus compared the construction of the building to putting together a puzzle. The first and most complicated step, he said, was driving the piers in the ground.
"The piers had to go down until we hit bedrock," he said. "Fortunately, that was only eight feet. The deeper you have to go, the more expensive it is."
The Blue Rose is expected to have indoor seating for 100 people and an outdoor deck that seats another 80 to 90 patrons. Live music will be featured at least three nights a week, Dittus has said.
Swamphouse Partners has budgeted $500,000 for the project, while an additional $250,000 in public funding for infrastructure work was targeted for it through the third-penny sales tax. Additional parking at the site to accommodate restaurant patrons is planned.
River Parks officials were at the site on Oct. 12 receiving an update on the status of the project, Dittus said. He said the project has been fortunate in that it has not encountered any snags since work began in July.
"They've been going hot and heavy ever since," he said. "They're working on Saturdays."
Dittus said he anticipates hiring a crew of 40 to 50 people to work at the Blue Rose once it opens. In the meantime, Dittus and a handful of employees have been operating a satellite operation called Elwood's out of a renovated cabana at the site since early last spring, selling burgers, sandwiches, snack items, and cold beer and other drinks.
A lengthy winter followed by a hotter-than-normal summer hurt the smaller venture's business, Dittus said, but spectacular conditions over the past several weeks have brought out good crowds. Elwood's offers live music every day beginning at 6pm, he said, and even features a movie on a big screen set up on the lawn each Wednesday at 7:30pm.
On Oct. 23, he said, Elwood's will partner with Myers-Duren Harley-Davidson for a poker run benefitting the Child Abuse Network.
Elwood's will continue operating once the Blue Rose Café opens, Dittus has said, primarily to sell refreshments to bikers, walkers and other users of the River Parks trails system.
The new restaurant is expected to have a major impact on the river, which many city officials believe would benefit from increased development. Dittus said the Blue Rose Facebook site already has 2,000 friends listed, and the old Blue Rose on Peoria was one of the city's most popular live music spots, regularly featuring such acts as Hanson and Cross Canadian Ragweed, both of which went on to achieve stardom.
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