Leah Simon and Michele Ezell (along with Michele's husband, Sean) are still working on a design that will convert the upstairs (some of which is atop Tsunami) into loft condominiums ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet. That there is an upstairs in the old building, which housed a large portion of Abdalla's department store until the late 1990s, may come a surprise to many, because it's not been used for years. The space, likely used by the Abdalla's for storage, has wood floors and exposed brick walls, ideal features for its conversion to single, open space lofts.
Michele Ezell says the partners have also signed a lease on the front 1,800 square feet of the building, the previous site of a martini bar. They are unsure what they'll do with it and the remaining 11,000 square feet of downtown space but are eyeing a number of mixed uses. "We're in very preliminary stages," Ezell says. "We have a million ideas, and we can't figure out what to do."
Positive results from a comprehensive study of downtown as a residential market were released last week, an assurance Ezell hopes will give projects like hers momentum to get off the ground. The study found considerable demand for downtown housing, both new construction and conversions of older structures, mainly among younger singles and couples without children. "The potential is a lot higher than I anticipated," Ezell says.
The study, however, found that the downtown area lacks an adequate supply of vacant buildings like Ezell's available for such rehabbing into housing for lease or sale. (For more on the study, visit www.lafayettegov.net.)
But there is at least one project like theirs on the drawing board ' a local developer is planning to convert the old Southwestern Bell building behind Whitney Bank on Jefferson Street into living units. Several new construction projects are in the works as well. Developer Cecil Trahan's Parkview Tower, slated for construction on a vacant lot on Jefferson Street between City Newsstand and the small gated park that leads to the Vermilion Street parking garage, is a six-story condo complex with one- and two-bedroom units; the Hilton Homewood Suites' owner is considering adding a condo element to the top of his planned downtown hotel; and a mixed-use project is being studied for a vacant site at St. John and Convent streets, according to Cathy Webre of the Downtown Development Authority.
The Ezell couple and Simon's company, Urban Logistics, purchased the 19,000-square-foot building about two months ago from James Stelly for $725,000, according to records in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office.
SIMPLY FONDUE COMING DOWNTOWN
Simply Fondue, a restaurant chain based in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, is coming to the corner of Jefferson and Garfield streets, catercorner to Dwyer's. And while the flame-warmed pot with dips to share may make the restaurant experience unique and entertaining, there's much more on the menu than fondues of blended cheeses or chocolates (five cheese choices served with bread, veggies and apples for dipping and 13 chocolate selections prepared and flambéed tableside), says franchisee Brach Myers. "We've been looking around [for a downtown concept] for eight or nine months, but they've always been at the top of our list," says Myers, who was attracted to Simply Fondue's "romantic, artistic atmosphere" and the opportunity to introduce an interactive dining experience to downtown Lafayette.
The dinner-only restaurant offers a variety of chicken, beef and seafood dishes, including lobster. It's highly unlikely diners will leave feeling short-changed on their portions, Myers notes, as the House Special for Two is a four-course meal with dinner salads, cheese fondue appetizer for two, six entrées (among a choice of 15) and chocolate fondue dessert for two. The dinners are served with stuffed mushrooms, broccoli bites, three cheese ravioli and fresh veggies ' with a total ticket price of $32 per person, $46 if you go for the 10-ounce lobster tail and bottle of wine.
Started in 1989, the chain has grown to eight locations, says Myers, who hopes to open his 2,950-square-foot restaurant in November. The Palmetto native will keep his day job as manager of LHC Group's personal emergency response service. His parents, Keith and Ginger Myers, founded the home health company in 1994 and took it public in mid-2005.
A tapas restaurant, Monitos, was originally scheduled to open in the space Myers is leasing, but that project did not come to fruition.