Valpo restaurant could become housing
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent January 8, 2013 12:54PM
Updated: February 10, 2013 5:55PM
VALPARAISO — The building that once held Maria Elena’s restaurant and now houses Gabriella’s could become affordable housing.
It could also become another business, remain Gabriella’s or be sold.
Project Neighbors, which owns the building at 454 Greenwich Ave., went before the Site Review Committee on Tuesday to present plans for converting the downstairs area into two apartments and storage space.
“I’m looking at all possibilities,” said Paul Schreiner of Project Neighbors.
However, the building needs to make money, and site review is only the first step for approaching the Board of Zoning Appeals to convert to apartments, he said.
Although losing the restaurant will hurt the area, the evolution of nearby downtown Valparaiso in “restaurant row” has changed what’s feasible in the Hilltop neighborhood around Valparaiso University.
Maria Elena’s prospered for five years, but the last five years has been hard for the new restaurant, Schreiner said.
“Another restaurant in Valparaiso off the beaten track is going to be a hard sell,” he said.
So far, no one is interested in buying the building, which has apartments on the second floor.
Since the possible conversion has gotten publicity, Schreiner has heard from a drapery business and hopes to hear from other possible business tenants.
However, Project Neighbors won’t put in a small grocery store. He told City Planner Tyler Kent that Project Neighbor’s previous attempt at the end of Locust Street wasn’t sustainable.
Project Neighbors is also in the business of creating affordable housing, and it’s heard from people wanting that since word of a possible conversion to apartments went out.
If it does get converted into apartments, Project Neighbors will need to go to the BZA for a parking variance as the site has no parking area.
Schreiner said the current tenants don’t have vehicles, and restaurant parking is in a shared lot with Valparaiso University’s soccer fields.
The university was eager to have the restaurant there, but “we see that agreement going by the wayside,” he said.
When the medical center moves out of the Hilltop Center building a block away, parking could be designated there.
However, compared to the restaurant’s needs, apartments should reduce the need for parking in an area crowded by law school parking.