By Jay Cook |MIDDLETOWN – The site of a long-vacant restaurant on Route 35 may be the next piece of township real estate headed for redevelopment.The Steak and Ale restaurant at 1287 Route 35 North was a popular dining destination before shuttering nearly a decade ago. Today, the abandoned building stands out for its forlorn state, with its untamed foliage and fractured roadside sign.A prospective developer of the three-acre site says he can provide an upgrade over what exists now.“We’re going to vastly improve it aesthetically,” said Robert Indig, managing partner of DeVimy Equities, a Lakewood-based land developer, referring to the property. “It’s going to be a nice ratable for the town.”On July 12, Indig will present a plan to the Middletown Planning Board to demolish the existing 5,849-square-foot restaurant and its associated parking area. He plans to build two separate buildings totaling 21,505 square feet of retail space.The first standalone building, a 10,000-square-foot structure, is reserved for The Learning Experience daycare center, with a 5,000-square-foot indoor play area.The adjacent 11,505-square-foot building will house three tenants: a 6,505-square-foot Mavis Discount Tire automotive center with six associated garage bays; a 3,600-square-foot retail center, currently without a tenant; and an 1,850-square-foot drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts.Indig said the Dunkin’ Donuts at 865 Route 35, located a half mile south on the mid-highway traffic island in Middletown, will be moving to the site.The retail center would either be a local yoga studio or a smoothie beverage-type vendor, but that would be determined after the development is approved by the town.Regarding his mix of tenants, Indig said he sees it as an “internet-proof strategy.”If approved, the proposed tenants would join a Route 35 corridor already studded with similar businesses. Just north of the property beyond the Autozone retailer is a Firestone Complete Auto Care facility. Across the highway on the southbound side resides Bobby’s Precision Auto Repair, which shares a property with Penske Truck Rental and an Avis/Budget Car Rental facility.Just south of the vacant lot, past the Crown Palace restaurant, is a Bright Kidz Preschool and Day Care facility.“People still have children, and those children still have to go to daycare,” Indig said, adding that “everybody has a car, they need tires, they need brake repairs and oil changes.”DeVimy Equities is requesting seven different variances for the site, ranging from parking setbacks from the highway to retaining wall heights.The current owner of the Steak and Ale site is Manalapan-based River Birch, LLC, which took control of the property in 2011. Per county tax records, the nearly three-acre plot of land was assessed at just over $2 million in 2017.Indig’s purchase remains contingent upon approvals from the planning board.Steak and Ale, Bennigan’s and Bennigan’s on the Fly restaurants closed across the country in 2008 after parent company Metromedia Restaurant Group filed for bankruptcy.Per Bennigan’s, the brand has been revived under new owner Legendary Restaurant Brands. The Steak and Ale franchise is looking for domestic and international franchising opportunities, according to its website.Paul Mangiamele, chairman and CEO of Legendary Restaurant Brands, said there was “nothing wrong” with the site or location of the Steak and Ale in Middletown.“This store is in my neck of the woods,” Mangiamele said in a statement to The Two River Times. “I know this location and it would be ideal for the rebirth of our beloved Steak and Ale.”Indig and DeVimy Equities are represented by attorney Rick Brodsky of Ansell Grimm & Aaron. Brodsky was the attorney for the most recent approval before the Middletown Planning Board – a 5,040-square-foot, two to three tenant retail center at an empty gardening center located on the island between Route 35 North and South.In addition to that project, another major Middletown redevelopment opportunity still looms before the township’s planning board. John Orrico, president of National Realty & Development Corp., has not appeared to township planners since February for the 52-acre proposed commercial development The Shoppes at Middletown, more commonly known as Village 35.It is anticipated that both Indig and Orrico will be present at the July 12 planning board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Indig said he was supposed to be heard at the June meeting, but was pushed back. He anticipates a roughly one-hour presentation to the planning board at the July meeting.Referring to his own redevelopment project, Indig said he expects his improvements for reenergizing the site to be looked at favorably by Middletown at large.“I think overall it will be very well received by the township and the residents,” he said.This article was first published in the July 6-13, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.