SPRINGFIELD It's been nearly three years since East Longmeadow businessman and entrepreneur Peter Pappas drove past the former Basketball Hall of Fame on West Columbus Avenue and saw potential.
"It's been a long journey, but a rewarding journey," said Pappas as he updated Reminder Publications on the progress of the upscale restaurant, elite fitness club and west-coast style sports medicine clinic that he and co-developer and childhood friend, Dr. Michael Spagnoli, now of California, will soon open on the site.
Pappas said both the fitness club complex, which will house the only Northeast location of L.A. Fitness, and the restaurant that will occupy the former Hall building are "progressing" and on-target for March openings.
"We're opening [the restaurant] Onyx for its first night on March 22 for 375 people for the division two Elite Eight [basketball] finals as a special event for them," he said. "It will be our first public event."
He said L.A. Fitness has been pre-selling corporate memberships from a trailer in the parking lot, and expects to open by the end of March.
"The pool has been installed, and the basketball court, and they're working on the locker rooms," he said. "They probably have another four to six weeks of construction."
He said the sports medicine clinic is also on track, but that his partner, Spagnoli, is more involved and actually has more details on that project's status.
Onyx nearly ready for diners
Pappas said he's very excited to have the chance to finally unveil the project's jewel -- Onyx Fusion Bar and Restaurant -- to the community in the near future.
"We're in the final days of construction. Then we'll be doing training and preparing for that March  opening," Pappas said. "The signage goes up [this] week."
Pappas also explained the change in the restaurant's name from the previously-proposed Hollywood Barn -- a blending of the names of eateries both Pappas' and Spagnoli's families had once operated in Western Massachusetts -- to the new name, Onyx Fusion.
"It was about six months back," he said. "We were looking at the final [restaurant designs] and talking about the name and asked [ourselves] 'does the name fit the contemporary, world-fusion space that we're designing?'"
He said it was the restaurant's new General Manager, Marianna Starosielski, formerly of the Bellagio in Las Vegas and most recently of Max's Tavern, who proposed naming the restaurant after the unique, translucent amber onyx stone that Pappas and Spagnoli had selected for the main bar.
"She said this material is the focal point of the place," Pappas recalled. "And so sadly, we gave up the family name connection, which we liked, but which ultimately just didn't fit the space."
Pappas said cuisine in this soon-to-open three-level, 300-seat restaurant featuring a main bar, 18-screen video wall, separate sushi bar and open kitchen -- a design which he describes as "Manhattan or L.A.-style" -- will be created by Onyx's new executive chef, Isaac Bancaco.
Pappas said Bancaco recently relocated to the Springfield area from Los Angeles, where he worked with award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi, owner of Roy's Hawaiian Fusion.
Prior to that, Bancaco worked with renown chef Ming Tsai at the Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., Pappas said.
"The Blue Ginger was rated the second most popular restaurant in Boston," he said.
Pappas described the cuisine Bancaco is developing for Onyx as "world fusion."
"World fusion is a contemporary East-West cuisine that melds fresh, local and international ingredients with traditional and modern cooking techniques," Pappas said.
With a mere six weeks to go to Onyx's late-March opening night, Pappas said "the excitement is building."
"Ironically, it was in March three years ago when I started looking at the building," he added.