Q: Earlier this year, it was announced Sweet Tomatoes would be opening in the Naples Park area. Any updates? I also heard a rumor they were going to use the old Macaroni Grill building at the corner of Tamiami Trail and Immokalee Road. Any truth to this rumor?
— Dick Richenberg, Naples
A: It’s not a rumor. A Sweet Tomatoes restaurant is scheduled to open early next year in North Naples at the former location of Romano’s Macaroni Grill in the Granada Shoppes, located on the southeast corner of U.S. 41 North and Immokalee Road.
The new restaurant will open between January and March, said Chrissy Fradley, manager of Southwest Florida’s only other Sweet Tomatoes, located in Fort Myers on U.S. 41 just south of Daniels Parkway.
That North Naples restaurant location has been vacant since the Macaroni Grill closed in March 2008. Fradley said the company plans to use the existing building, but restructure it inside. Construction planning is scheduled to begin this month, she said.
The Sweet Tomatoes restaurant chain, known for its massive salad bar and all-you-can-eat buffet dining experience, is owned and operated by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., based in San Diego. According to its web site, the company owns and operates 111 restaurants in 15 states, including 20 in Florida. Its restaurants are branded as Souplantation in Southern California, and Sweet Tomatoes elsewhere.
Q: Can you check on the progress of the bridge being reconstructed over Wiggins Pass on Vanderbilt Drive? I can see the work from my lanai in Cove Towers. It doesn’t look like it will be completed as promised, by the end of the year. All of us who would drive that way are very anxious.
— Nancy Kamenick, North Naples
A: The contractor hired to replace the bridge over the Cocohatchee River still plans to complete the project and have that section of Vanderbilt Drive reopened to traffic by the end of the year, but the Florida Department of Transportation wants the contractor to pick up the pace, said FDOT spokeswoman Debbie Tower.
“We see considerable work ahead for the contractor to be done by the end of the year,” Tower said. “We are recommending that the contractor step it up by adding more resources and work seven days a week.”
Crews from the contractor, Engineer Control Systems Corp., now are scheduled to work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays to meet the accelerated project schedule. FDOT would like to see work on Sundays, too, to get the job done.
“We’re monitoring construction closely,” she said. “We want to see the bridge open by the end of the year.”
The contractor has spent a good deal of time driving pile foundations so far for the new bridge in North Naples. Not a lot of progress is visible in the six months since the project began April 15, so concern is understandable.
Of course, the contractor has incentive to replace the bridge on time. If the company does not complete the project in the approved contract time, financial penalties will be assessed.
The new 53-foot-wide bridge, which will be built 6 inches higher than the old bridge, will include two 11-foot traffic lanes and a 5-foot shoulder on each side. A 10-foot shared-use path for bicycles and pedestrians on the west side of the bridge and a 6-foot sidewalk on the east side of the bridge will be separated from traffic lanes by a concrete barrier, according to FDOT information.