Downtown Lafayette bar fighting city to stay open

This photo shows the two-story building at 713 Jefferson St., which may no longer be legally able to house a bar or nightclub. Photo courtesy: The Daily Advertiser

The anchor nightclub on Jefferson Street in downtown Lafayette can no longer operate as a bar.

At least, that’s what the management of The Plaza learned Wednesday from the zoning division of the city-parish government.

More than one year had passed between one bar closing and another opening at 713 Jefferson St., according to the zoning violation, which would mean that the property is no longer exempt from a 2003 law that prohibits new bars from opening downtown.

“I had no idea that this could have happened because we had all of the valid and current permits necessary to operate,” said Shannon Wilkerson, managing partner of The Plaza.

Although properties that had local bar permits in 2003 were allowed to continue operating as bars after the law passed, if a bar on one of those properties closed for a year or more, it lost the exemption.

The Plaza, which currently occupies the property in question, opened its doors in April but did not operate regularly until June.

The property’s former occupant, Karma Nightclub and Lounge, was evicted in December 2013 by the real-estate company that owns the two-story building.

The largest bar in downtown Lafayette can no longer be a bar. Photo courtesy: The Daily Advertiser
The largest bar in downtown Lafayette can no longer be a bar. Photo courtesy: The Daily Advertiser

It is currently unclear if a bar opened in the same space after Karma closed and before The Plaza opened.

On Thursday, Wilkerson focused his efforts on ensuring a sold-out show would still take place at The Plaza Saturday.

It will.

Now, Wilkerson and his business partners will focus on proving that the property is still legally zoned as a bar.

Lafayette Consolidated Government’s attorney Michael Hebert said his office is reviewing submitted evidence.

“We want to investigate whatever information the bar’s owners and operators claim they have that is contrary to our information,” Hebert said. “It won’t just be their information we look at. It will involve going a step further to the taxing authorities and all of those things.”

Citing the ongoing investigation, Hebert would not disclose the dates his office has for when Karma closed and when The Plaza opened or if any other bar occupied the space in between those two dates.

One department of LCG issued the necessary bar permit to open The Plaza, but another department of LCG is ceasing the bar’s operations for the zoning violation.

“Liquor licenses are independent of zoning,” Hebert said. “Those licenses do not depend on the zoning ordinances. It’s potentially possible for a property to get a license for a property that’s not zoned to sell liquor.”

The Plaza is a reincarnation of a former nightclub of the same name that operated at the corner of Johnston Street and Camellia Boulevard from 1995 to 2010.

Wilkerson managed that location as well.

He also owns and manages two bars, Poet’s and The Bulldog, near downtown.

Karma operated for about six years in the downtown space in question. The nightclub came under scrutiny many times as authorities investigated a shooting, two stabbings and multiple alcohol violations at the business.

Following Karma’s eviction, the building was leased to new, out-of-state operators, who brought on Wilkerson as a local who could manage the new nightclub.

Hebert is currently unsure how long the investigation into the building’s zoning restriction will take, but he said it is a priority for his team.

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