The future of Mandeville’s historic Rest A While property apparently will not be decided for a while.
The property, which consists of an inn and two smaller cottages, sits on Mandeville’s picturesque lakefront. It has been derelict since 2005, but last year, Barrett McGuire bought it and began to renovate the buildings, eventually presenting a plan to turn the site into a bar and restaurant complex with seating for 68 people and thousands of square feet of deck space.
That plan met with resistance from neighbors and others who feared the noise, traffic and general disruption that the project could bring to what is a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood.
But after several emotional and grueling public meetings, Mandeville’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project last month, eliciting groans from some and tears from Adele Foster, who lives next door and who said that if the disruption is too great, she and her husband Mark may have to move.
Enter the city and the Northshore Community Foundation.
Thursday night, the City Council will consider a resolution — sponsored by Councilman Ernest Burguieres, who represents the lakefront and much of what is known as Old Mandeville — to enter an agreement with the foundation to study whether the city should purchase the property from McGuire.
Under the proposed agreement, the foundation would help the city identify private and governmental funding sources to help preserve Mandeville’s historic character, including the Rest A While. The foundation would also examine how much it would cost to purchase, run and maintain the property.
The city would pay the foundation $25,000 for the study, the resolution says.
Burguieres is already convinced that the Rest A While should not be turned into a privately run restaurant or bar.
“I think it doesn’t make any economic sense for any private entity to operate that site,” Burguieres said Monday. “To me, it makes more sense for a government entity or a nonprofit to acquire the property.”
On the other hand, some see the idea as a dubious use of public funds to help private citizens on the lakefront.
“When did it become the prerogative or perceived obligation of the city to develop a plan for a private citizen’s land?” Mandeville resident Glen Runyon wrote in an email to several council members.
Councilman David Ellis asked a similar question.
“Are we just going to buy up all the vacant properties because they have some historic value?” he asked.
Council Chairman Rick Danielson conceded the question has merit, but he said he feels the city should at least go ahead with the study.
“I just want to make sure all the angles are examined,” he said. Danielson said he is curious not just about the possible purchase but also about what it would cost to actually own and operate the site after it was purchased.
He said the site’s historic character makes this a special case.
“I am trying to look at the big broad picture here, citywide,” he said. “Understanding the significance of that piece of property is why we need to look at this study.”
The property fell into disrepair after Hurricane Katrina, when the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons was forced to essentially abandon the property because of dwindling funds and membership. The Order had owned the Rest A While for nearly a century, and for decades it served as a home for widows and orphans.
McGuire, who paid $750,000 for the Rest A While, said he hopes to have the first phase of his bar/restaurant complex open in six months, though he conceded that proposed timeline is “aggressive.” But if the city wants to buy the property, he’s willing to listen.
The city would have to “come up with a sustainable public use that would be accessible to everybody in Mandeville,” he said. If that were the case, he said, he would consider selling the property to it at cost.
To Foster, the neighbor who was in tears after the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project, the potential for a city purchase is a godsend.
“I would rather have one million kids playing or a park or an art colony than three bars next door,” she said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.
Editor’s note: This story was changed March 24 to remove material incorrectly attributed to Mandeville Councilman Ernest Burguieres.