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Olive Garden reopens 16 months after fire

Regency businesses, residents pleased to have restaurant back

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Businesses in Regency hope the reopening of a major restaurant Monday will bring more people back to the area. The Olive Garden burned down in January 2014. It left nearly 100 employees out of work and the community looking for a new attraction.

The popular Italian restaurant reopened at 11 a.m. after a ribbon-cutting ceremony with city and restaurant officials (pictured below). The restaurant has an updated design and jobs for about 150 people. Fifteen team members who worked at the restaurant before it was destroyed are returning to the location.

Regency businesses and people who live in the area are extremely pleased to have it back.

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"This has been kind of a downhill area for probably the last 10 years I've lived here. When I first got here, this was a vibrant area and it's kind of slipped into a doldrums," said Regency resident Jim Dunlap.

Dunlap said the restaurant brought traffic and liveliness to the area.

Businesses like Mike Davidson Ford, just a couple blocks up Atlantic Boulevard, were affected as well.

"We were a little impacted when it was gone. I think it will bring more great customers and clientele to the area. We're looking forward to having Olive Garden back," said Boyd Zimmer from Mike Davidson Ford.

IMAGES: Fire destroys Regency Square restaurant

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Zimmer said the success of businesses like the Olive Garden is key to their own success.

"Customers come in and we take and shuttle them over for lunch, late afternoon brunch and it gives them a chance to get a great bite to eat. We get them picked up, then come back and get their car taken care of so it works great for them and us," Zimmer said.

Dunlap is excited about the reopening of the Olive Garden and said it will help the struggling area but thinks Regency still needs something more.

"It needs a big anchor store and someone with a lot of faith in this diverse market. I like it here, that's for sure," said Dunlap.