Empty building no laughing matter

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, May 30, 2015

The building at 154 and 156 W. Washington St. is back on the market after an unsuccessful attempt to make it into a comedy club.

The building at 154 and 156 W. Washington St. is back on the market after an unsuccessful attempt to make it into a comedy club.

Plans for a comedy club and restaurant on West Washington Street didn’t pan out, but the building is back on the market.

Michael Auletta planned to start “Fat Cats” as soon as his approval from City Council came in a meeting in May 2014. But the business never got off the ground, and he’s now not returning phone calls from the News-Herald or from the attorney who represented him in the process of getting the conditional use permit.

“He had a good plan, but he didn’t have enough money,” said neighboring property owner Andy Damiani.

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Owner Marcus Pollard said Auletta was “a nice guy and was pretty honest all the way through,” and even returned the building to its original condition at his own expense when he decided the comedy club wasn’t going to work.

Pollard has the building at 154 and 156 W. Washington St. on the market again. Real estate agent Brian Saunders said 154 is an office space above the former restaurant building, 156, which housed A.J. Gator’s for several years. That was followed by short stints as Bullie’s and Jade’Soul to Soul, which closed in the summer of 2012. The building has sat vacant since then.

Saunders said Pollard is looking to sell the building.

“We’ve had a bad experience with people that want to lease it,” Saunders said. “People have these huge dreams about a money-making machine, and a restaurant unfortunately is not (that). It’s the exact opposite. They have a lot of dreams and no money.”

Saunders said the building is listed at $369,900, which is recently reduced. They’ve gotten some pushback on the price, he said, but it includes an exhaust hood in the kitchen, walk-in coolers and freezers, a bar, stools, tables, chairs and even some utensils.

“I feel like it’s a pretty interesting space with this big bar, and it’s a lot of fun,” Pollard said. “Somebody who wants to open any kind of restaurant venue could make it work.”

The office upstairs could bring in a fair amount of rent, Saunders added.

“It’s an excellent space, and I think it’s an excellent opportunity for somebody to really come in and do something,” Saunders said. “I think it’s a good time to buy. Washington Street is kind of coming up.”

Damiani said he hopes the building will fit in on West Washington Street, which has experienced a renaissance of sorts over the last couple of years. New businesses directly across the street include a barbershop and hookah lounge, on the bottom floor of 67 loft apartments. Another barbershop, a wine shop, East Coast Taco Company and a variety of other businesses fill out the block, along with a couple more vacant buildings also looking for the right opportunity.

“The street wants to do something,” Damiani said. “This street is brand new. You’ve got to be kind of choosy” in what kind of businesses go there.

Damiani did say he hopes the new business will be one that encourages short-term parking. On-street parking is the closest option, while there are several public lots within a block or two.

“Long-term visitors on the curb is not what you want, because you need the turnover,” Damiani said.

No matter what it is, he added, “I’d like to see something happen there.”

Pollard, of course, agrees.

“I think downtown is finally turning that corner we’ve all been hoping for, for about 10 years,” he said.