A dozen apparently vacant storefronts lined a three-block stretch of Jefferson Street on Dec. 16, but at least one was in fact in the process of reopening. The OmniCenter, a new art market and event venue, held a soft opening last month and is in the process of renting stalls to artists.
City Bar owner Brandon Hargrave incurred two debts in 2009 after purchasing the building that houses his downtown watering hole.
One of the OmniCenter proprietors, Robert Guercio, attributed his willingness to lease the space at 227 Jefferson St. directly to the prospect of lifting the bar moratorium, which he believes will help lead to a healthier thoroughfare.
“They have lots of properties in downtown Lafayette for lease right now,” Guercio said. “If I wasn’t married with children, I might try to snap another one up.”
Guercio is part owner of the Green Room bar, a longtime Jefferson Street drinking establishment, as well as the Wurst Biergarten. The Wurst, which by all outward appearances is a popular outdoor bar, opened in 2015 despite a moratorium on new bars downtown. They did so by classifying themselves as a “catered park, open-air market and special event facility.”
“They found a loophole in the law, and there is nothing wrong with that,” Councilman Bruce Conque said. “But why should they have to do all that?”
Conque is helping to spearhead an ordinance that, if successful, will replace the moratorium with a conditional-use permit protocol. The idea is to allow more businesses liven up downtown, and to give City-Parish Council greater say over what those businesses are.
The effort started in 2015, when another popular establishment, Artmosphere, couldn’t prove that food accounted for more than half its sales, which would qualify it as a restaurant. It has instead operated as an illegal bar since then, but no one is complaining.
The live music venue is considered a poster child of the sort of business city leaders want to attract downtown. That Artmosphere is forced to operate illegally is what spurred Conque and Councilman Pat Lewis to request a change in the law.