As the restaurateur planning a distillery restaurant on St. Charles Avenue prepares to ask the city for permission to sell alcohol in the building that currently houses Halpern’s Furniture Store, neighbors are voicing their concerns about how it and the associated hotel redevelopment on the block will affect their ability to park near their homes.
Jess Bourgeois of Lula restaurant and distillery has held two recent meetings with neighbors of the building at 1532 St. Charles as part of the city’s required Neighborhood Participation Program, he told the Coliseum Square Association on Monday night. Very little has changed since Bourgeois first shared plans for the project in June, he said: he still plans to use imported copper stills from Germany to craft small batches of gin, vodka and rum from Louisiana sugarcane, pairing it with a Southern-influenced menu featuring local meat, seafood and produce.
Bourgeois will rent the space from the Halpern family, who are also planning a major redevelopment of the Prytania Park Hotel on the same block in two phases into the nearly 200-room Avenue Oaks Hotel. The only significant addition to his plans, Bourgeois said, is that he has reached an agreement with the Halperns to provide breakfast service to the hotel, so Lula will open earlier in the day than originally planned for that meal as well.
The restaurant will require approval from the City Council, and Bourgeois told the Coliseum Square Association he hopes to have their support for it. The neighbors who showed up at the earlier Neighborhood Participation Program meetings were largely concerned about parking, and some of them appeared at the Coliseum Square Association meeting on Monday as well.
“It’s already to the max with parking. There are no parking places left at night,” said Paul St. Martin of Prytania Street. “I think it’s really a serious problem. … Where would you think these people are going to park?”
The restaurant plans to seat about 175 people, but Bourgeois says he expects many of them to arrive by the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. The property already has enough parking to satisfy the city’s zoning laws, but because of neighbors’ concerns, he said he may explore adding valet service.
“I know that the overall consensus is that there’s not enough parking,” Bourgeois said. “I’m personally not going to be able to purchase more parking lots.”
Melpomene Street resident Derek Nettles said it is the combination of the restaurant and the hotel sharing the single surface parking lot on the block that is of the most concern to residents. He said the hotel project should be scaled back, or that the planned parking structure should be built earlier in the development.
Most of the homeowners nearby do not have driveways, Nettles said, so they have begun discussing how to get residential-permit parking implemented on the block. Until he sees a better plan for parking at the site, Nettles said, he plans to ask the City Council to oppose the conditional use for the restaurant.
“That will be three or four restaurants, all wanting a few parking spots,” Nettles said. “Presently there is no parking at all on the street.”
Coliseum Square Association president Jim McAlister said after the meeting that Bourgeois is trying to be a good neighbor, and that he agrees with Bourgeois that the streetcar will reduce the vehicular traffic. Valet service could also be successful, McAlister said, noting that Bourgeois has previously worked at both Superior Seafood and Commander’s Palace, which both have valet parking — but the issue as a whole needs a broader solution.
“I think we get a lot of tourists, but I think the whole neighborhood doesn’t have enough parking in general,” McAlister said.
The association did not vote on the project Monday night, and McAlister said they will wait to hear more from the developers and the neighbors before making a decision. The Coliseum Square Association has looked favorably on similar in recent years, most notably through its support before the City Council of The Courtyard Brewery, a nanobrewery on Erato Street, but also by welcoming alcohol sales at other new businesses as well.
If the conditional use is approved, Bourgeois has said he hopes to open the restaurant in the fall of 2015.