Arnold Kirschman — whose grandfather founded the Kirschman’s home furnishings business in 1914 — has been exploring a redevelopment project at the old steak house building for about three months, he told members of the Freret Neighbors United group on Tuesday evening. After extensive research with his contractors, Kirschman said his current plan is to preserve and renovate the large white building on the corner of Cadiz that used to be a laundry, but to tear down the remaining structures and replace them with a new building.
The entire project, he said, will have space for commercial tenants on the ground floor, though he has not yet begun talks with any tenants in particular. The two stories upstairs will have apartments, generally echoing the existing development pattern on Freret Street, he said.
Originally, Kirschman said, he was determined to save the entire structure, but eventually decided the brick building that housed the steak house has deteriorated to the point that renovation is no longer financially feasible, he said. Instead, he wants to focus his preservation efforts on the old laundry that anchors the block.
“The building just has so much historic value and character and interest, we felt we had to invest the money and make it secure and make it safe,” Kirschman said, even as he detailed missing roof, floor and wall sections that will have to be replaced. “This building, we used as our starting point, and as our design element to carry through for the rest of the project.”
Kirschman needs the city’s permission to demolish the building, and he said he has a hearing set for June 2. The building itself, however, will not need any zoning changes or variances to be built, Kirschman said, because it will be designed to fit in the current height and density limits already on the street. The parking lot in the back should satisfy the building’s parking needs, he said.
Kirschman brought a painting of the streetscape he envisions from the building that drew nods and approving murmurs from the approximately 40 people at the meeting. He is in the process of hiring an architect to create more detailed plans, he said, but his concept drew approval from those who saw it Tuesday evening.
“Our goal is to renovate,” said Rachel van Voorhees, Kirschman’s wife. “We’re only taking down what is a nightmare.”
Stan Norwood, a barber in the next block whose grandmother worked in the old laundry for decades, said he hopes the neighborhood will support the demolition and redevelopment. Although the old steak house may be a landmark, its 20 years as a vacant eyesore need to come to an end.
“Anything you can do with those will be beautification,” Norwood said to Kirschman. “I don’t think anyone will stand in your way.”
Kellie Grengs of The New Freret business and property owners’ association literally applauded the design proposal.
“It’s better than the 20 years of blight we’ve been burdened with,” Grengs said.
Neighbors questioned Kirschman about his progress purchasing the building from the Barreca family, and he replied that the closing is currently timed shortly after the demolition hearing — though not contingent on it. The neighbors, however, urged him to make the purchase sooner. In 2012, neighbors attended a similar hearing in support of a request to demolish only a few homes behind the main buildings, but the committee denied the demolition because the sale had not been completed, and the deal subsequently fell through, recalled Richard Dmitry of Neighbors United, who attended the 2012 hearing.
Kirschman noted that he actually intends to renovate those two houses, not tear them down for parking. More than likely, he said, he and van Voorhees will move into the renovated houses themeselves, because they want to be close to the buildings.
“We’re truly thrilled with the project,” van Voorhees said.
Once the sale goes through, the developers said, the demolition and construction process is expected to take about 18 months.