VALPARAISO | After years of waiting for the economy to improve and the right project to come along, the next chapter in the former Porter County Jail building is about four months from beginning.
Bret Dodd, architect with RQAW of Indianapolis, told the city's Redevelopment Commission recently the project has gotten design approval from the state and was getting the city building permits needed to renovate the interior. Much of the exterior restoration and beautification work already is complete.
The owners, a corporation owned by George Dovellos and his family, plans to open a Mexican restaurant on about half the first floor and use the rest of the floor and two of the three floors above as a home decor store. Dodd said Dovellos plans to open both in three to four months after work begins.
"They have the materials, and the contractors are lined up to start as soon as they get the city permit," Dodd said. "The upper floors, they just have to put in a couple of toilets and stain the floors. It shouldn't require much else. Most of the work will be in the restaurant area."
The family bought the jail at auction in 2002 for $320,000, but the remodeling for a medical office building didn't start until 2006. Dodd said the principal tenant for that project pulled out and the building has been in limbo ever since. Turning it into a hotel was explored, but the demand wasn't there, he said.
Before the restaurant/home decor store could be started, the building had to be checked to make sure the floors were up to the task. Dodd said the standards for a jail are half the requirements for a restaurant or store. The structural analysis took months and determined the floors were tough enough, and now they are testing the columns.
The family finally decided to open a Casa Del Mar, similar to one they own in Munster, and use the rest of the building as a home decor store designed to provide a total shopping experience to appeal more to the women shoppers looking to improve their homes as opposed to the do-it-yourself big box stores.
The restaurant will feature coastal Mexican cuisine with more seafood dishes than other Mexican restaurants in the city. The city approved one of the 10 downtown historical district liquor licenses for the new eatery. The restaurant will seat about 200 and will be family oriented with live music and outside dining in the rear of the building rather than on the Franklin street side.
It will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., but Dodd said Dovellos "intends to be responsive to downtown events, staying open later to accommodate the theaters and major activities planned for the downtown."