Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A two-year lease with the Lafayette Public Library booked the sale of the Jefferson Street Market.
By Mary Tutwiler


When Rob and Catherine Robison shuttered Jefferson Street Market nine months ago after 15 years of anchoring a large and delightful storefront, a collective shiver of fear ran through other downtown business owners. Jefferson Street Market, with its eclectic collection of antiques, vintage clothing, contemporary art and gifts, drew customers from all over the region. It was a good place for the residents of Lafayette’s affluent south side to rub elbows with the art and music crowd. The market housed a large gallery and anchored monthly events like ArtWalk. The Robisons were constant strong voices as part of the governing body that oversees the development of downtown. Was a 25-year-long effort of revitalizing the heart of old Lafayette heading south with the economy?


The answer, inked in the last days of October, is a resounding “no.” The building’s new owners, a newly formed company, Jefferson Street Market LLC, is largely comprised of members of The Southwest Group: Jim Poché, Philippe Prouet, Bryant Poché, Danny Nugier, Ed Krampe II, and E.J. Krampe III. Those are the folks who lovingly restored the Tribune Printing plant on Vermilion Street, creating space for The French Press restaurant, Philippe’s Wine Cellar and Recycled Cycles. New partners Jim Keaty, Joshua Hebert and Loney Hebert have signed on for the Jefferson Street Market venture.

“It’s an opportunity to do something different with the building,” says Nugier, who tends to be the spokesman for the partnership. The nearly 20,000-square-foot building offers all sorts of redevelopment options in a historic structure, a speciality of the group. Nugier says the firm envisions a combination of retail, including a restaurant, residential and perhaps some office space.

But that vision will have to wait for a few years. The first tenant, the main branch of the Lafayette Public Library, will collect the keys to the building Dec. 1. And it was the library’s lease that made the purchase agreement work.

“In this economy, I was glad to sell it,” Robison says. “The process [of selling the building] was going on for so long; we were relieved when it finally came to fruition. When we secured the library, that did the deal.”

Selling at just over $1 million, it was an important deal for downtown. The Southwest Group’s mission is tightly focused on the area between Johnston, University, Congress and Evangeline Thruway. It is known for preservation of significant buildings and, just as important, finding good tenant matches for those spaces. “They’re not going to bring a Hooter’s downtown,” says Robison, with a laugh — but he’s not really joking. The Southwest Group “will head in the direction we were going in — a direction that was good for downtown.”

While the property has been in Catherine Dauterive Robison’s family for nearly a century, the building isn’t old enough to land on the historic register. Though originally Dauterive’s Furniture, it is most commonly recalled as a five and dime called McCrory’s. The building burned to the ground before being rebuilt in the 1960s. When Rob and Catherine moved to town from Charleston, S.C., her mother gave Rob the tour of the family building. He had lived through a revitalization of an old downtown in Charleston, and knew, with the opening of Streetscape, that Lafayette’s downtown held promise. The brick-lined sidewalks opened the same year, 1996, that the Robisons reopened the building as Jefferson Street Market.

The library’s lease extends for a little more than two years. The main branch on Congress Street will be undergoing renovation, and housing the library on Jefferson Street keeps the function of the library downtown. The doors will be open to the public as usual, offering access to books, newspapers, computers and movies.

Nugier says that two-year period will give his company time to plan, design and forge relationships with tenants. “We need to think about what would be the best use for the building, and what’s best for downtown,” he says. “We’ve already had a lot of phone calls.”

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