Heating up – (UPDATE) Future of Decatur Dairy Queen uncertain
The word got out that the Decatur Dairy Queen will close soon. Loyal customers stormed the store on Monday to pay their respects.
Dairy Queen closes on Feb. 22 after 30 years in business. It will be razed as part of a plan to develop apartments on Trinity Place. But the DQ will be back in the new development. Right?
Maybe not, the owners say. They put a sign on the store that said “We will be back in new development.” The sign doesn’t say that the message is more of a hope than a promise.
Decatur’s DQ is owned by the Momin family, run by Nadera Momin and her brother Nisar. They said they do not currently have a lease for the new mixed use development, which will open in 15 to 18 months. They said they wanted to buy the building, but the city talked them out of it. Now they can’t be sure if they’ll be allowed to return.
“We lose the game,” Nadera Momin said.
The DQ is supposed to reopen as part of a 210 unit apartment development. A March 2013 edition of the city-produced “Decatur Focus” magazine said developers Cypress Realty and Centro Development were negotiating with the owners. Minutes from a January 2013 Decatur Downtown Development Authority meeting show that Momin wanted to buy, not lease, the property from Cypress when the Trinity Triangle apartment complex opens.
Lyn Menne, assistant city manager in charge of economic development, said the city has tried to work with the Momins to keep them as part of the new development.
“At the time that this parcel was being assembled, we believe that the developers buying this site would have outbid any offer Mr. Momin could have afforded on this parcel,” Menne said. “He did not have a lease at the time and his landlord was actively negotiating with the developers.”
She said the current developer is offering the Momins a deal that is below market rate and has worked with the family to find alternative locations.
“With the addition of 200 apartments above his new store and improved streetscape and intersection improvements adjacent to this site, this block will become much safer and more walkable,” Menne said. “We expect increased foot traffic will add to Mr. Momin’s current business. Those arriving by car will still be able to park in new on-street parking spaces in front of the Dairy Queen and will also have access to free parking on the ground floor of the parking deck immediately behind the storefront.”
Menne provided a detailed description of the city’s involvement with the development of this site. Her full statement is reprinted beneath this article.
Centro Development declined to comment for this story because they are still in negotiations with the Momins. The city is aggressively pursuing apartment projects. The Trinity Place site is an important piece of that puzzle because of its proximity to Agnes Scott College and downtown Decatur. Minutes from the Development Authority meeting show that the city was directly involved with the negotiations between the Momins and Cypress.
City officials and the developer are both aware that any misstep with the DQ could set off a firestorm. People in Decatur love the Momins and their Dairy Queen.
The Momins hugged greeted and hugged customers Monday. They kept a notepad by the counter filled with adoring messages from the restaurant’s loyal customers.
“The Dairy Queen is essential to the happiness of most of Decatur,” one of the customers wrote. “Please give every consideration to this community icon.”
Nadera Momin said her family has nothing against the city. They love Decatur, she said. She’s known some of her customers since they were babies.
“I love the customers,” she said. “I love the people of Decatur. They are just like my family.”
Regular customer Colline Broom was distraught to hear that the DQ might not return. She stopped by the store with her grandchildren in tow, and reached across the counter to hug Nadera.
“People all over Decatur love this place and these people,” Broom said, adding, “A lot of people are going to be upset when they realize what’s going on.”
Harold Wilson, another regular, finished off his lunch in a seat by the window. He’s been coming to the DQ since he was a teenager.
“I’m gonna miss it,” he said. “I think they’re doing them wrong.”
Here is the full statement provided by Lyn Menne, assistant city manager in charge of economic development, on the city’s efforts to keep the Dairy Queen as part of the Trinity Triangle development.
“Mr. Momin is a valued member of our business community and we continue to work very hard on his behalf to keep him in the project. At the time that this parcel was being assembled we believe that the developers buying this site would have outbid any offer Mr. Momin could have afforded on this parcel. He did not have a lease at the time and his landlord was actively negotiating with the developers. At the time of the assembly, we were dealing with a local developer with ties to the community. The developer ended up losing the parcel to one of his investors during the early days of the economic downturn. We are now dealing with a development group out of Texas. The DDA owned a parcel in the area and included a requirement in its sales agreement that Dairy Queen remain as a tenant in the project and we continue to use this clause to find an acceptable solution for Mr. Momin. We also required that the project include 30 additional parking spaces for the Old Depot building that the DDA owns. Original plans called for keeping the existing Dairy Queen building but as plans evolved, an improved site plan emerged that included Dairy Queen in a new storefront fronting Trinity. The current development group is offering Mr. Momin a deal that is well below market rate, a generous build-out allowance and a right of first refusal should the ground floor ever be sold off. We offered to find Mr. Momin another location in downtown Decatur and also suggested he consider scaling back to an ice cream only format as options to get him moved and opened before construction began but he wanted to remain at this location. We also hoped to find an opportunity to allow him to operate out of a temporary food truck operation during construction but Dairy Queen doesn’t offer this option. We continue to work diligently on Mr. Momin’s behalf to keep him in this project and get him the best deal possible. With the addition of 200 apartments above his new store and improved streetscape and intersection improvements adjacent to this site, this block will become much safer and more walkable. We expect increased foot traffic will add to Mr. Momin’s current business. Those arriving by car will still be able to park in new on-street parking spaces in front of the Dairy Queen and will also have access to free parking on the ground floor of the parking deck immediately behind the storefront.”