Lafayette’s largest downtown bar told it can no longer operate as bar; manager uncertain of next step but says he’s not walking away from the business _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- The building located at 314 Jefferson Street, with a sign identifying itself as The Plaza Downtown, on Aug. 18, 2015.

The largest bar in downtown Lafayette can stay open, at least for the near future, despite a notice sent by city-parish government earlier this week directing The Plaza Downtown to immediately cease operations.

Plaza Downtown manager Shannon Wilkerson confirmed the Jefferson Street club will open as scheduled this weekend, and City-Parish Attorney Michael Hebert said efforts to close the business have been put on hold pending legal research.

The dispute involves a 2003 ban on bars in downtown Lafayette. The ban exempted buildings used as bars at the time but stipulated any building not used as a bar for more than one year would lose the exemption.

The Plaza Downtown secured a certificate of occupancy and liquor permit before opening in June, and at the time, city-parish government did not raise the issue.

But City-Parish Zoning Manager Jim Parker said this week that his office “found out fairly recently” that the building at 314 Jefferson St. had been vacant for more than a year before The Plaza Downtown opened.

Parker declined comment on the particulars Friday, referring all questions to Hebert.

Hebert said only that his office has been asked to consider “other evidence” related to whether the building had been used as a bar within the one-year window.

“That cannot be completed immediately, so there will be no immediate closure of The Plaza as a result,” Hebert wrote in an email.

He said city-parish government “will not have substantive comment on the details of that investigation until any proceedings arising out of that investigation are completed.”

Karma Nightclub & Lounge operated for several years in the building but had closed by January 2014. Another bar briefly opened in the building in April 2015 before The Plaza Downtown opened in June 2015.

It is unclear how the building had been used, if at all, in the intervening months.

Wilkerson, who was brought in earlier this year to manage the business, said this week that he did not understand how the issue had arisen after the bar had received all necessary permits.

“I don’t know how this has surfaced after several months of operations,” he said.