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Lighthouse Diner on Hull? Sugar Shack? Pho? What’s the Deal?

Closed in 1970, the Lighthouse Diner on Hull Street has been rumored for the better part of 15 years to be just a few short months away from reopening. As it turns out, that was wishful thinking. The quasi-vintage exterior picture from the City of Richmond’s real estate records shows what it once looked like. The picture below shows its current deteriorated state.

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The hopeful stories of restoration started as far back as 2002 with Style Weekly’s announcement “Turning on the Lighthouse.” The article trumpeted “A group of local investors doing business as Prodigy Partnership has entered into a contract to purchase the former Lighthouse Diner at Hull and 13th streets, with plans to start serving blue-plate specials again in about a year.” The Prodigy Partnership group was comprised of D. Hayden Fisher, Jake Crocker, Mike Hanky, Jim Kennedy, and Patrick McLynn.

But then Mr. Tom Robinson’s Lighthouse Diner, LLC purchased the property from Andrew G. Keck, Jr. & Hannah M. Keck in 2004. So what the heck happened?

Fast forward to 2007, and the same Prodigy Partnership group re-enters the picture and is featured on CBS 6 News talking about the project. The video clip is below, and like a blue plate time capsule, lots of cool vintage material remained inside.

And then radio silence for  7 years…bupkis…crickets chirping on Hull St. Are you as confused as I am???

Alas, then came the donut deal of 2014! As reported by Richmond BizSense, Sugar Shack’s Ian Kelley was coming to the rescue of Lighthouse Diner: “Sugar Shack owner hopes to spread sweetness to Manchester.” According to BizSense: “Kelley bought the Lighthouse Diner property at 1228 Hull St. last week. He plans to first renovate part of the space as a warehouse and production kitchen for Sugar Shack’s catering and mobile operations. And then eventually re-open the rest of the property as the Historic Lighthouse Diner.” But apparently the deal was actually financed as a lease to own by Tom Robinson to Kelley. And the lease payments stopped arriving, with no word to Mr. Robinson about what happened.

Then vagrants broke in and stripped all the equipment, materials, and metal from inside. All the cool vintage charm had been lost. Once again, Lighthouse Diner was on the market.

Then it was rumored that Stephen J. Parson was buying the property. But apparently he and his pastor family got all tangled up in litigation related to the contested sale of the bankrupt church and its assets, Richmond Christian Center, as reported by Richmond BizSense: Pastor’s son settles disputes with bankrupt church. Again, the beleaguered diner was on the market.

Enter stage right…Pho Saigon. Apparently Dangminh Thi Nguyen owner of the West End’s Pho Saigon contracted to purchase the property. But title issues that Mr. Robinson thought were resolved long ago reappeared and contributed to the property lingering in a state of limbo. Apparently, those issues were successfully resolved in court, and the property finally changed hands on September 2, 2016 with “special financing” provided by the seller.

Yippie, time to get some Pho right?! Well not so fast. My dreams of pho were dashed as I was told the new owner only bought the property as an “investment.” As such, it continues to sit in a state of disrepair with no signs of work being done to stabilize the property.

Adding to the dilemma is the City of Richmond’s parking requirements. While Hull Street is a special parking exempt district, that exemption does not apply to restaurants. That means the 3,978 square foot space if opened as a restaurant is likely going to be required to come up with approximately 13 parking spaces in order to be issued a business license. Given the lack of off-street parking along the Hull Street business corridor, there is a snowball’s chance in you know where of coming up with that type of parking.

So unless a miracle happens, Lighthouse Diner will remain a dark house of disrepair blighting Hull Street. Boo Hiss!

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