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Spicer hot spot will reopen next week; building is scheduled for demo in fall

A construction project at O'Neil's, a popular restaurant and bar in Spicer, has been pushed back. O'Neils, which has been closed for a month due to the project, will reopen next week in a buildup to the summer season. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

SPICER -- One of Spicer's oldest restaurants will delay its plans for a building reconstruction project so that it can stay open for Green Lake's summer crowds.

After closing nearly a month ago in preparation for reconstruction, O'Neil's bar and restaurant in Spicer will reopen next week to serve the summer business before demolishing the building in the fall.

O'Neil's closed its doors March 1 for a few reasons, said O'Neil's owner John Olson. When the restaurant ran into a problem with its plumbing, Olson said he prepared to move the restaurant and reconstruct the building that houses the restaurant. Meanwhile, Olson said he was also in the middle of sale negotiations for the property before the parties couldn't reach an accord.

Olson said after the closing, he planned to move O'Neil's into the Bell Tower Plaza Mall temporarily while the O'Neil's building was demolished and rebuilt -- a process that could take about a year or longer.

However, Olson's temporary location plan hit a roadblock late last week. Olson said he and his wife had discussed the temporary idea for six to eight months, but after taking a close look at the allotted mall space Saturday, they realized the business would require too much change to accommodate the new location.

"In order to relocate it, it's almost like you're starting over," Olson said. "What (the mall space) is set up for isn't quite big enough for what we do."

Olson said the kitchen wasn't large enough for the restaurant's needs. In short, Olson said he would either need to scale back the O'Neil's menu to open at the location or invest a lot of money into a building he doesn't own.

So Olson moved onto another plan, he said, keeping in mind the three Spicer properties his family owns. Overall, Olson owns the building that houses O'Neil's and the Green Lake Inn, a vacant office building west of O'Neil's and another building south of O'Neil's stretching from state Highway 23 to Lake Avenue that is partially occupied.

Olson said the new tentative plan is to reopen O'Neil's for the summer before closing again in the fall. Once O'Neil's closes, Olson said, the staff will move everything over to the partially occupied building he owns. The restaurant will stay in that new location for at least a year while the O'Neil's building is demolished and rebuilt.

"We want to stay open and kind of have a seamless transition," Olson said. "We know we probably have to do something with this building as far as tearing it down."

Olson has owned O'Neil's since May 2000, and the building has required numerous repairs over the years, he said. The original building was built sometime in the early 1900s, possibly eclipsing the century mark, Olson said, and a few additions to the property followed.

"We've been just trying to patch it together ever since we've owned it," Olson said. "We've remodeled some things along the way and that's kind of been the big dilemma. Where do you stop?" Olson said the building's age also shows in the property's hefty utility bills created by the failing interior systems.

Olson said he has thought about rebuilding O'Neil's over the last few years when the Spicer Economic Development Authority tried to acquire a grant for improving downtown Spicer. "But there's a lot of stuff in this building that needs to be replaced all at once," he said.

With the projected reconstruction, Olson said O'Neil's hopes to restore the charm of the original building but update much of its interior systems. Olson said he planned to recycle O'Neil's tin ceiling and reuse it in the new building and give the exterior a near-identical look.

He also plans to add more floor space to the restaurant area and possibly add professional office space on the second floor.

Olson said the O'Neil's staff has been cleaning the restaurant this week for the reopening. He said he hopes to open the doors again sometime next week.