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Italian Village Pushes Big Ideas for Redevelopment of Cafe del Mondo

Walker Evans Walker Evans Italian Village Pushes Big Ideas for Redevelopment of Cafe del MondoPhoto by Walker Evans.
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The building located at 659 North Fourth Street has been empty since August 20th, when an overnight fire gutted the interior and damaged the roof. The site was previously home to the Cafe del Mondo Italian restaurant, owned by the A&R Creative Group, but the building and land are owned by the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church next door. And during last night’s Italian Village Commission meeting, a representative from the church stopped by to solicit some feedback on what might come next for the property.

“The parish holds responsibility for the maintenance of the site, and frankly, what makes the most economic sense is for us to knock down the building, put down a gravel parking lot for now, and put down asphalt in the Spring,” said Bruce Boylan, Director of Facilities for the church. “But we also want to hear other ideas. The building was fairly well damaged from the fire… it’s in pretty sad shape.”

The members of the Commission quickly rejected the idea of a parking lot of any kind, and instead asked the church to think much bigger about long term plans.

“It’s wholly unacceptable to convert this into parking lot for variety of reasons,” said Commissioner Jason Sudy. “This is the gateway to this part of the neighborhood, and the last thing we want to do is revert back to a development pattern that we’re trying to erase — which is parking lots.”

Sudy took the time to point out that several streets close Cafe del Mondo were converted recently into a permit parking area when nearby residents expressed worry about parking problems in advance of the opening of the Wonderbread Lofts and the Cray restaurant and bar. Sudy said that he’s observed that the permit parking area is underutilized, as the parking traffic never materialized in the way that residents had feared.

“The last thing this area needs is more parking,” he said. “Instead, new development here could be a signature gateway for the neighborhood. I’d love to see a building positioned closer to Fourth Street, either commercial or mixed-use, and more than one story, with parking to the rear.”

Commissioner David Cooke contributed an alternate idea — building single family townhomes that would match existing ones located on the west end of the property facing Hamlet Street.

“Putting back some of the townhomes might be a nice contrast to the other land in the area across Fourth Street,” said Cooke, referencing the larger scale of the nearby Jeffrey Park development. “We hope that regardless of what happens, it’s taken into consideration that there’s now more sidewalk traffic and bike lane traffic as a feeder from Downtown.”

None of the present Commission members expressed a strong interest to see the existing building salvaged and renovated. Boylan said the church may seek approval in the near future to demolish the damaged building and leave the land open as a grass lot as a placeholder so that the abandoned structure doesn’t becomes more of a safety hazard.

No motion on this agenda item was taken during last night’s meeting, as no specific action was being requested at this point in time. Boylan said that he would return to the Commission at a future date after discussing plans further with members of the parish.

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