The former Freret Veterinary Hospital is slated to be torn down next week, and the Barreca family is courting two new offers for their large empty structures a few blocks away — after the city fined them in December for allowing a public nuisance there — in what could represent major changes this year for the two largest remaining vacant buildings on the commercial corridor.
The old Freret Vet building at 4730 Freret is slated for the most immediate action, with demolition permits already secured and work set to commence Jan. 6, said Dr. Eugene Zeller, owner of the property. Afterward, Zeller said he plans simply to fence the property once the foundation and utilities are removed. He will spend some time making a final decision as to whether to rebuild the clinic, and if he decides not to build himself, he would likely not put it up for sale until November.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do. There’s still a possibility I’ll build a new hospital there,” Zeller said. “If I’m not going to use it myself, I’ll either sell it or lease the land.”
Either way, Zeller said, no one wants to use the building as it stands.
“All the people who have expressed a serious interest in the property, none of them have expressed an interest in using the building,” Zeller said. “It’s coming down, no matter what happens.”
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Less clear is what 2014 holds for the cluster of empty buildings at the corner of Freret and Cadiz, owned by the Barreca family and best known as the site of the former Frank’s Steakhouse. Joseph Barreca appeared in a code enforcement hearing on the properties Dec. 17, based on a July 2011 report focused on the need for exterior paint and work to the soffits and fascias along the roof line.
In the hearing, Barreca objected to the use of a report more than two years old, and city officials gave little explanation for the long delay in acting upon it. Instead, hearing officer Lee Phillips quickly noted that the issues in the report appeared to have been addressed, then ruled the property guilty of the public nuisance at the time of the report but now in compliance. A reduced fine of $100 was assessed, plus $75 in hearing costs.
“The property doesn’t appear to be fully in compliance, but almost,” Phillips said at the hearing. “It would be awfully nitpicky to say it’s not in compliance.”
In an interview this week, Barreca said he still doesn’t understand why the property was brought before the city on such minor issues more than two years after the inspection. In the meantime, Barreca said the family received two strong offers on the property before the holidays, and he expects a decision on them this month.
Barreca declined to describe the pending offers.
“A lot of people are interested in the property, so we’re taking offers as we go along,” Barreca said.
The fate of the buildings remains a topic of keen interest along the Freret corridor. In 2012, a plan by the owner of owner of the Green Tea restaurant to redevelop the complex into a mix of restaurants, offices and apartments enjoyed strong support from the neighborhood, but was scuttled when city officials rejected the demolition of houses behind the site for parking. In 2013, the site was considered as a potential location for a private university-housing development, but the developer withdrew from consideration amid concerns from neighbors.