Renovations are finally under way to turn a vacant building in the heart of Fountain Square that changed hands more than four years ago into a restaurant and bar.
Bryce Caldwell, 34, of Indianapolis paid $620,000 in December 2010 to buy the 8,000-square-foot former home of Deano’s Vino restaurant and wine shop at 1110 E. Shelby St.
The two-story building sits where Shelby and Prospect streets and Virginia Avenue converge, across from the neighborhood’s namesake fountain and the Fountain Square Theatre building.
Caldwell’s goal is to open an Italian restaurant called Pioneer on June 1, more than three years after his original plan to launch on New Year’s Day 2012.
Caldwell, whose background is in warehousing and logistics and not real estate, took much longer than he had envisioned to start work on the historic building that dates to the turn of the last century.
He scrapped plans for a more ambitious 4,200-square-foot, two-story addition on the south side of the building to accommodate an independent music venue after determining the project would be too costly.
It also took more time than thought to line up investors to fund building renovations expected to total about $1 million. So far, interior walls have been removed to expose the original brick, and a new roof and windows have been installed.
“It’s a truncated version of the original plans, which would have doubled the size of the original building,” Caldwell said. “But the budget blew into the stratosphere.”
The evolution of the area also persuaded him to drop the concert venue. Fountain Square’s resurgence, thanks in part to the Cultural Trail and the impressive emergence of the adjacent Fletcher Place neighborhood, helped him realize that Pioneer didn’t need to be the destination that he thought it could be upon buying the building.
Live acts still will be a part of Pioneer’s repertoire and will play on a stage in the restaurant on the north side of the building. Concerts also might be held on the outdoor plaza. The bar will be on the south side, where patrons can enjoy a cocktail in the summer months on a patio abutting the Cultural Trail.
Caldwell’s passion for live music prompted him to buy the building and float his plans for the venue. He had scouted other locations in and around Broad Ripple and on Massachusetts Avenue before pulling the trigger on the Fountain Square property.
Longtime Fountain Square residents and visitors might recall that the south side of the building once housed Santorini Greek Kitchen before it moved three blocks east to 1417 Prospect Street.
Its last major tenant, Deano’s, closed in mid-2010, leaving a hole in the Fountain Square fabric that locals like Paul F. Smith, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Development community development corporation, are eager to fill.
“It’s just going to be one more addition to an incredibly robust restaurant and bar scene here in Fountain Square,” he said.
Linton Calvert, who operates the Fountain Square Theatre building across the street, is very familiar with the building and Caldwell’s plans for it.
Calvert purchased his building, a destination for duck-pin bowling, in 1997 from Joe McNeal. McNeal also sold the building at 1110 Shelby St. to Caldwell. Calvert, though, held first right of refusal on a potential sale, if he disagreed with the buyer’s use. He never challenged Caldwell’s intentions.
“I think it’s something that’s necessary for the visual of what people are coming here for,” Calvert said. “He has the finances to make it happen, and the location to make it appealing.”
Even though Pioneer will join other nightspots that feature live music, Radio Radio and White Rabbit Cabaret in particular, neighborhood leaders are confident Fountain Square can maintain its historical and relatively quiet character.
“We want the same Fountain Square in the daytime as we have in the nighttime,” Smith at SEND said.
Caldwell’s restaurant will seat about 100 and feature a menu of northern Italian fare prepared by a young, local chef that he declined to name. The bar will sport 15 taps highlighting local and regional beers, with some “wild stuff” thrown in as well, Caldwell said.
For Caldwell, the start of construction has been worth the wait.
“It’s more than I ever dreamed would be needed,” he said of the extensive renovation. “But we want it to last another 100 years.”
During the lull, a few developers approached him about partnering on a mixed-use project that would have added apartments to the mix. But Caldwell refused the overtures.
The second floor could be converted to an apartment, where Caldwell ultimately might reside.
Just to the south, Deylen Realty plans to spend $9.1 million to build a five-story apartment-and-retail project on a surface parking lot that had been owned by the city.
Deylen hopes to begin construction on the 64-unit Forte in the summer.