Dew Drop Inn renovation deal falls through, but hopes for redevelopment remain

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The Dew Drop Inn remains vacant at 2836 LaSalle St. in Central City, as it has since 2005. (Nicholas Reimann, Uptown Messenger file photo)

By Nicholas Reimann, Uptown Messenger

The future of the historic Dew Drop Inn on LaSalle Street in Central City is once again in doubt, after a deal to restore the dilapidated former music hall fell through.

Ryan Thomas, owner of real estate development company Peregrine Interests, said a difficulty getting investors for the planned two-story development with a hotel, museum and restaurant — along with a music venue — is what held up the deal that was set to close Dec. 30.

The property’s owners are now looking at other offers, according to Scott Graf, a commercial real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.

The sale agreement called for 15 hotel rooms at the 80-year-old site, with a total of 10,000 feet of renovated space.

Key to the development was the museum, which would have been an homage to New Orleans music.

The Dew Drop is legendary as a location where black musicians could perform and stay at its hotel during the Jim Crow era. Notably, Ray Charles lived at the Dew Drop for a time.

Graf said it’s possible the project could still happen, and Thomas said he’s still interested in pursuing it.

But his approach may now be through crowdfunding, instead of finding large investors on the private market. Thomas said many potential investors were turned off by the location at 2836 LaSalle St. — in the heart of Central City.

Whether or not any crowdfunding effort is successful, Graf said, he expects the property — which has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina — will soon be redeveloped in some capacity. Graf said he’s seen plenty of interest since the property went back on the market this year, given its history.

A photo by Ralston Crawford shows the Dew Drop Inn in 1952. (Couresy of Tulane Digital Library)

That history started in 1939, when Frank Painia expanded his barbershop into the 2836 LaSalle building and opened a music club.

Painia would then go on to attract performers like James Brown and Tina Turner, who were on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” performing at venues friendly to African-American entertainers during the segregation era.

It began drawing celebrity guests during the 1960s, as well, like Adam West of “Batman,” while also drawing attention in another way — police raids.

Dealings with police would settle down as government-enforced segregation ended in the late 1960s, but unfortunately for Painia, so did his business.

The music venue would close in 1970 amid shrinking crowds and Painia’s own failing health. He died in 1972.

The hotel portion remained open, with the last long-term tenants forced out after Hurricane Katrina.

Efforts have been made in the past to restore the venue — notably by Painia’s grandson Kenneth Jackson in 2015 — but the funding wasn’t there.

The Jackson family currently owns the Dew Drop.

Thomas said he now hopes those in the community might step up, even with small investments, as he’s committed to bringing the Dew Drop back to its glory.

“We’re still interested, still moving forward,” he said.

Attempts to attract investors to a Dew Drop Inn redevelopment project have been hindered by its Central City location, developers say. (Nicholas Reimann, Uptown Messenger file photo)

This story was updated to reflect that a crowdfunding campaign has not been launched.

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