The big gorilla is not the problem.
It's the driveways beneath King Kong's feet.
Nick Triantafillou wants to knock down his original King Kong Fast Food restaurant, at 4409 Dodge St. and replace it with a bigger, nicer building. It now seats 40 people. The new building would seat about 80.
He has been working, negotiating, and sometimes debating with city officials for a year, to try to obtain approval for his plans for the gastronomical and cultural landmark in midtown Omaha.
The matter appears to be headed for a showdown at a Feb. 24 meeting of the city's Administrative Board of Appeals, which handles such conflicts over permit denials.
Triantafillou is OK with taking down the familiar big gorilla sign, as he would be required to do to meet city standards if he started over on the site.
“I'd take down the gorilla and put up a smaller gorilla,” Triantafillou said.
He also has agreed to add landscaping, use better building materials and otherwise gussy up the property. That's to meet the higher standards that Omaha has adopted since the building, a former Dairy Queen, was constructed in 1978, and since Triantafillou opened his gyro and big burger joint there in 1994.
The Omaha Planning Board voted Wednesday to recommend a rezoning that Triantafillou needs for his plan. But that's separate from the permit issue, which hinges on the driveways.
Triantafillou said he can't live without two driveways onto Dodge Street for customers, one on each side of the restaurant, similar to what he currently has.
The Omaha Public Works Department says a new King Kong restaurant on Dodge could have only one such driveway, under city regulations aimed at traffic safety and efficiency.
Triantafillou and a representative, Colliers International Vice President Brinker Harding, cited the unusual nature of King Kong's site.
The back portion of King Kong's parking lot is built on stilts, not solid ground, and can't support truck traffic. So there's not enough room for semitrailers making deliveries to turn around and use one driveway.
Harding also said King Kong is unique among other businesses along its stretch of Dodge Street in that it has no access to an adjoining public street.
Harding has represented King Kong since before he was appointed to the Planning Board, and recused himself from the discussion and vote on the zoning matter last week.
“Nick's not asking for anything special; it's just because of the physical challenges and constraints of the site,” Harding said. “The rules are well-based in theory, but in practicality there needs to be an ability to make exceptions when they're warranted.”
Triantafillou is running into a common issue that owners of old properties face when they want to build new. The city requires that the properties be brought up to current standards.
At King Kong, the two driveways are closer together than city regulations allow, said Todd Pfitzer, city engineer.
“It's for safety,” he said. “At every driveway, you have accidents. If you can restrict the number of driveways, it reduces the possibility of accidents.”
That makes a street — in this case, Dodge — “safer and more efficient for the traveling public,” Pfitzer said.
Triantafillou has a legitimate problem with the delivery trucks, Pfitzer said. The Public Works Department offered a compromise under which King Kong could have an extra driveway that would allow semis and other delivery trucks to exit King Kong and turn right, or east, onto Dodge Street.
The truck driveway would be separated from Dodge Street with temporary bollards, short metal posts that could be lowered only to let trucks out.
Triantafillou has rejected that compromise. He said that won't work. He said customers would be backed up too long while trying to get onto Dodge Street.
The city has rejected Triantafillou's offer to make one of the driveways a “right-turn only” exit going east on Dodge Street.
The Administrative Board of Appeals heard the matter in January. It postponed a decision until Feb. 24, giving Triantafillou more time to try to work it out with the city.
The two sides are still talking.
“I try to make it a nice, new building, more money, more taxes,” Triantafillou said. “I don't understand why they're doing this. The whole thing, it makes me crazy sometimes.”
Pfitzer said the city wants Triantafillou to be able to build his new King Kong restaurant, but has to look out for the public's safety.
It's not an all-or-nothing situation.
The stricter driveway standards apply only if Triantafillou knocks down his current building and starts new.
If he remodels the old King Kong, he could keep the driveways.
And the big gorilla, too.