Restriction likely to be lifted for jazz site

The requirement that only a jazz club/restaurant can be developed at the former Kelly’s Pub property looks like it will be lifted by the Redevelopment Agency, allowing other options to be pursued for the site.

The property at the corner of Seminary Avenue and Irving Street has been dormant for the better part of a decade and as part of a redevelopment agreement entered into some five years ago, the site was to be turned into a jazz club and restaurant, with a couple of apartments on the second floor.

Ronald Esposito, representing KC Jazz, spoke before the Redevelopment Agency at its Nov. 2 meeting, following up in person on a request he made earlier in writing to lift the restriction on the site. He argued that the restriction makes it more difficult to sell and get a new project going at the site. While he’s hoping the jazz club still a possibility, Esposito concedes the odds are against it.

(File photo)

Between taxes, mortgage and insurance, Esposito said it costs $50,000 a year just to carry the property and he and his partners have already invested close to $800,000 in the effort and would be lucky to get back half that amount. He’s aiming to either sell it or get another developer for the project. “We’re getting to the end of our string,” he said, adding that the liquor license already has been renewed for two years.

Separating the three properties that make up the development might be an option as well, said Esposito, while also pointing out that another nearby restaurant is having difficulty selling after it closed (likely referring to Tauros Grill adjacent to Meridia Grand).

Esposito said the project ready to go except for local permitting; it already has approvals from DEP as well as engineering and architectural plans completed. “We were ready two years ago but the bank put it on hold, even after the contractor brought down the cost.” He said they’ve brainstormed other ideas for the property, including living space for artists or people in the area and maybe retail space, though he was against a liquor store.

Redevelopment Agency Attorney Frank Regan said the request is not an unusual one but the agency would have to terminate the current redevelopment agreement and enter another one if there’s a different use, and that would be done either with or until a new buyer/partner presents to the agency.

As it stands, the property is “a detraction on the neighborhood; it’s not a nice site to look at,” said City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier, who lives across the street. “There’s some merit to what he says.” Taxes have been kept up on the property and it’s not in foreclosure. “The owners have done due diligence. The last thing we want to do is own it,” he told commissioners, endorsing the idea of relieving the restriction but not without the approval of the agency.

Redevelopment Agency Commission Courtney Clarke said the developer brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project when first proposed, but “unfortunately, with the times, things changed.” He suggested the agency do as much as it can to provide relief to develop the property or enhance it for others with ideas.

Commissioner Paul Sefranka said making it less restrictive — but consistent with zoning — makes sense, and suggested returning to the agency to ensure the site is consistent with the city’s overall plan.

The Redevelopment Agency is expected to formally put forth a resolution at its meeting next month, Dec. 7.