SAUGUS — The new owner of the former Weylu’s restaurant property on Route 1 plans to link the 11-acre site to 30 acres he owns in Revere, creating a gateway for business growth in each community.
“We look forward to working with elected officials and local communities to redevelop this property as a prime location along Route 1,” Joseph DiNanno, president of Republic Properties of Malden, wrote in an e-mail. “There is still much work to do.”
Republic Properties purchased the Weylu’s site for $4 million on Aug. 23 from Golden Mountain LLC of New York, according to property records at the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds. The sale price is nearly twice the $2.4 million assessed value assigned to the parcel by the town of Saugus.
The Revere land, known as Caddy Farm, has been owned by his family since the 1950s, DiNanno said.
But the only access has been through two dead-end local roads — Muzzey Street in Revere and Eustis Street in Saugus. In 2011, the Revere City Council voted to change the zoning from residential to highway business — opening it up for commercial development.
The zoning change also required access from Route 1, something the Weylu’s property will provide, DiNanno said.
“We have some details to work out, but obviously Weylu’s provides tremendous access from Route 1,” DiNanno wrote in response to questions submitted by e-mail.
But carving out the access may not be easy.
Two acres, located in the middle of the DiNanno property, is owned by Vietnamese Gospel Outreach Ministry NE. The Christian congregation received approval to build a church on the land. The foundation is poured, but the city recently issued a stop-work order because the church did not post a bond, a requirement of its approval, said Revere city planner Frank Stringi.
DiNanno said he is in talks with church leaders about the future of their parcel.
“We are in discussions with them, but cannot speak to their plans,” he said.
James Cipoletta, a Revere lawyer who represents the Vietnamese ministry, said DiNanno contacted church officials several weeks ago.
“He has approached us to enter into some kind of arrangement, whereby, we either do a land swap, or he buys the church’s property,” Cipoletta said in an interview.
DiNanno offered to exchange land behind Weylu’s, but church leaders are not interested, Cipoletta said.
“The parcel has steep ledge, and they would have to blast to get to ground level,” he said.
Still, he said church officials are open to more talks.
“We’ll be meeting with them in the next couple of weeks. The church doesn’t want to stand in their way,” he said.
DiNanno called the Weylu’s site an “amazing and iconic gateway location,” which could become a new mixed-use development. The land on Route 1, long a destination for national retailers and restaurant chains, is zoned for highway business.
“We are currently exploring a number of potential uses . . . that may include retail, hospitality, medical office space or assisted living,” DiNanno said.
He added: “We envision all of the land [in Revere and Saugus] working as a complete development plan.”
Plans to develop each parcel have been closely watched, and long awaited, by both Saugus and Revere officials.
“Obviously, the Revere City Council is all for economic development,” Stringi said. “If he [DiNanno] can pull this off it could be a very nice project that generates revenue for the city.”
“Weylu’s is one of the best-known properties on Route 1,” said Robert Luongo, economic development director in Saugus. “Whatever goes could have a significant impact.”
Weylu’s has loomed large in Saugus since 1989, when immigrant entrepreneur Rick Chang opened the doors to the $13 million restaurant, inspired by the Imperial Palace in China’s Forbidden City.
The opulent, three-story restaurant stood out among other iconic Route 1 restaurants as Hilltop Steak House, which last week announced it will close, and Prince Restaurant, recognized by its Leaning Tower of Pizza, a smaller replica of the famous tower in Pisa, Italy.
But Weylu’s star fell in the deep recession of the early 1990s. Business dropped off, and the restaurant fell behind on state and local taxes and mortgage payments.
The Bank of China foreclosed. Chang pleaded guilty to 19 counts of failing to make employee tax contributions, and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. In 1998, the property was sold to a New York-based group. Four Asian-themed restaurants and nightclubs operated there, the last one closing in 2009.
The property has sat largely deserted, with a “No Trespassing” sign posted over a locked gate. A proposal to locate the National Comedian’s Hall of Fame there never materialized.
DiNanno said he does not yet know if the building will be torn down.
“We have not made any final decisions,” he said.
Final development plans could be known in the next 12 to 18 months, DiNanno said.
“There is so much work to do before then,” he said.