After hearing briefly from Arnold Kirschman (whose family operated furniture stores in the city for nearly a century) about his plans to redevelop the property into a row of ground-floor businesses with apartments above, the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee granted him permission to tear down the brick building that formerly housed Frank’s in the center of the 4500 block of Freret.
The large white building on the corner of Cadiz Street, a former laundry, will remain and be renovated, Kirschman and his wife, Rachel Van Voorhees, told the committee. The brick buildings will be replaced with new construction in the same style as the laundry building, they said, but they will also renovate two doubles on the Cadiz Street side of the site.
“Everything on the property we could renovate and rehabilitate, we are delighted to do, since that is our primary goal,” Van Voorhees said. She added, “We are not proponents of demolition unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
The Kirschmans told the committee that they have all their financing in place for the purchase, and that they expect to close on the sale within 30 days. Demolition will take place early this summer, Arnold Kirschman said after the meeting, and he will simultaneously finish selecting an architect, creating a site plan and engaging his contractor.
“I think the community will see major changes and final drawings within 90 days,” Kirchman said.
In the past, demolition permits at the site have been denied by the committee because of previous unrealized development plans by the longtime owners, the Barreca family. On Monday, Eleanor Burke of the city’s Historic District Landmarks Committee suggested holding the demolition permit until the building plans had been approved, as way to prevent the property from lying vacant too long. The Kirschmans said their record shows that they act on the plans they make, but that purchasing the building without the assurance of being able to demolish it would be too great a financial risk.
“We can’t close unless we’re sure we have a demolition permit,” Van Voorhees said.
Instead, Hilary Carrere of the city’s code enforcement department worded a motion “to approve the demolition pending the act of sale for the property, so the permit would be released to the Kirschman family.” City officials said afterword that the wording of Carrere’s motion to approve the demolition is binding, so that the Department of Safety and Permits will wait to see an act of sale before issuing a demolition permit to the Kirschmans. Approval by the committee is final and does not require a City Council vote.
Neighbors of the property and nearby businesses have long complained about the condition of the property and advocated for its sale and redevelopment. The Kirschmans noted that they have 50 signatures on a petition in favor of the demolition, and no one spoke in opposition to it Monday afternoon.
“The former Frank’s Steakhouse, banquet hall and the brick front building have been a burden to our commercial corridor for years. Neither building has any historic merit or architecture of any value,” according to a letter of support written by The New Freret business and property owners’ association. “The membership of the New Freret supports the demolition of these long blighted structures and looks forward to reviving commerce and property tax to the immediate area.”
An architect was spotted touring the site Tuesday morning.
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