A brick shell is all that remains of a historic building in Slidell’s Olde Towne district that over the decades has housed a grocery store, a hotel, several barrooms and, most notably, Minacapelli’s Dinner Theater. Now, more than three years after the fire that destroyed all but the exterior, city officials want to see progress in renovating the structure.
City Councilman Bill Borchert last week urged the council to condemn the building, saying the city needs to take action. He said there has been talk going around Olde Towne that the owner believes the city is “not going to do a damn thing.’’
The City Council debated whether to give the owner until next month to take some action or to apply some pressure by voting to condemn the property.
Borchert wanted the council to condemn the property with the understanding that a demolition could be ordered within 60 days, giving the owners time to start work. He suggested making the owners post a bond to hold them to renovation plans.
City Attorney Bryan Haggerty pointed out that the building has changed hands since the 2011 fire.
No one appeared on behalf of the new owner, Gilbert Valencia, who also owns the nearby restaurant Tacos and Beer. He did not return a call for comment on his plans for the building.
Tuesday’s debate over condemnation isn’t the first time the City Council has considered such a step. It voted in June 2012 to remove the property from a condemnation list after then-owner Romero Marcello sent a letter outlining plans for the building. The plans called for a 6,000-square-foot space that would be leased to one or two tenants.
Marcello and his brother, Vincent, had bought the building in 2000, according to a Times-Picayune account of the fire. At the time of the fire, it housed a bar called Club Phoenix. But nothing ever arose from its ashes under the Marcellos’ ownership. Haggerty said he doesn’t know when Valencia bought the property.
Borchert agreed with Pichon that it would be a shame to see the building torn down, and the City Council ultimately voted to postpone the condemnation vote until December.
Frank Jackson, owner of the nearby Old Town Soda Shop, said he has heard complaints from other business owners in the area about the derelict building. But, he said, he can understand the city giving the owner a bit more time. Little has been done to the site lately other than some workers cutting weeds a few weeks ago, he said.
If the old brick walls end up being demolished, Jackson said, photographers will be disappointed. He frequently sees photographers doing family portraits and other work using the building as a backdrop.
The council also voted Tuesday to impose a $3 fee on some transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Slidell. City officials have been considering such a step for months as a way to ensure that the office on Lindberg Drive won’t fall victim to state budget cuts.
The fee, to go into effect after Jan. 1, will help defray the cost of rental, utilities and maintenance for the office.
The fee will not apply to all transactions. Motor vehicle registrations are exempt, but it will apply to driver’s licenses.
While Stephen Campbell, administrator of the state Office of Motor Vehicles, said as recently as August that there are no plans to close the office, he also said having the city take over the lease would “short-circuit’’ any discussion of doing so. Rumors of closure had been rampant last year.
The City Council, which had delayed the vote after a lengthy debate last month, adopted the $3 fee Tuesday with no discussion.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.