Sara Butler | Editor
Development seeks to engage neighborhood with new additions
North Park will soon have more elements contributing to its artsy, foodie vibe when The Louisiana, a mixed-use building located on University Avenue and Louisiana Street, unveils a new mural and opens a new restaurant on its property in late August 2018.
This development is currently home to 15 apartment buildings and two commercial spaces, which opened mid-December 2017. It was designed and developed by architect Jeff Svitak, a Colorado native who is now a North Park resident.
Svitak worked in the local architecture industry for approximately 10 years before starting his own practice, Jeff Svitak Inc., in 2012. His previous projects include the Redwood House in Uptown, as well as Little Italy’s 1941 Columbia and East Village Lofts in Downtown.
On April 25, Svitak presented details about the upcoming mural and restaurant at The Louisiana to the North Park Community Association (NPCA).
Svitak said that he knew he wanted a mural for the North Park development before he even started construction on the apartments and commercial spaces. To complete the project, Svitak enlisted the help of local artist Michael James Armstrong, as well as his sister company VOID.
VOID is an organization “seeking to regenerate spaces in order to enhance the visual identity of our communities and environment,” according to its website. Svitak started the company to encourage developers to improve and enrich the neighborhood around their projects.
“I just felt so many developers restrict themselves to what’s within their property lines,” Svitak told San Diego Uptown News. “They’re turned off to what is the bigger picture that is going to enhance the community, [which would] then directly affect the success or popularity to their private development.”
His prospective mural, called The Louisiana Wall, will be an art-installation project located on the wall facing Louisiana Street, which the property shares with its neighbor Smart and Final. Svitak said he received approval from the grocery store to proceed with the work.
“This is the wall where we have marked our opportunity and what we can do to enhance the community in this neighborhood. Obviously, it’s a pretty blighted urban condition right now,” Svitak said at the April NPCA meeting, adding that a lot of trash, homeless activity and drug use is often present in that area.
“It’s just this forgotten street in what we think could be a lot more active and publicly engaging,” he continued.
About a year ago, Svitak partnered up with Armstrong after seeing one of his murals at the Bread and Salt building in Barrio Logan. Armstrong focuses on site-specific locations, basing his artistic concept for each project on conditions including size, scale, light, use and history of the site.
Based on his observations, Armstrong decided to utilize the natural lighting to create a light installation and mirror hybrid. The Louisiana Wall will have blue acrylic plates, and daylight will shine through these “acrylic flags” to create a cascade of reflections across the wall. LED lights will be installed to mimic this effect after the sun goes down.
Additionally, there will be a mural behind the lighting element. It will match the existing color of the wall at Smart and Final; a matching chevron shape currently on the wall will also be included in the design.
VOID recently partnered with nonprofit San Diego Creative Foundation, who is now a fiscal sponsor for its projects. The two organizations are currently fundraising for The Louisiana Wall. Each individual or entity who contributes $500 or more to the campaign will receive their name in a permanent place on the art-installation.
In addition to the mural, a new restaurant — coined Louisiana Purchase — will soon open on the property.
Svitak signed a lease agreement in July 2017 with Grind and Prosper Hospitality, who will be developing the restaurant on the ground floor of the property. The family-based restaurant group is known for eateries and bars in Pacific Beach and Carlsbad.
The restaurant is inspired by New Orleans and will serve New Orleans-style comfort food, including jambalaya, gumbo and fried chicken.
Grind and Prosper Hospitality enlisted the help of Svitak to help design the restaurant. The interior’s design will feature wood elements and vines, with an open-air layout.
They have now obtained its liquor license for the location, and Svitak said they are “just about ready to pull the permit.” Construction is expected to begin in the beginning of May and last throughout the summer.
In addition to the mural and restaurant, Svitak hopes to add a parklet to the property on University Street “in order to enhance the street life of that corner.” This pedestrian parkway would be open to the public, but the Louisiana Purchase would be allowed to serve patrons food and non-alcoholic beverages during the restaurant’s business hours.
“[The parklet] is working to take what is currently a very blighted urban condition and looking to make it an urban destination,” Svitak said at the NPCA meeting.
Though the address is listed as North Park, The Louisiana is located in the middle of a few Uptown neighborhoods. One of the reasons Svitak wanted to tackle the project was to revitalize the area. He said he saw an opportunity to provide the neighbors with places to go within walking distance.
“It had been on the market, and it was an empty lot for probably a couple years,” Svitak told San Diego Uptown News. “I think no one picked up on it because at that time it was still this weird in-between space between Hillcrest, University Heights and downtown North Park.
“It was something that was exciting to me because there wasn’t a lot happening around there,” he continued. “I felt like it was a good opportunity to activate that middle ground [between Uptown neighborhoods]. Turns out right after we bought it, Communal Coffee opened up, which was a great asset to have on that block as well.”
Both projects are expected to be completed later this year. For more information about The Louisiana or Louisiana Purchase, visit bit.ly/2w38UWF. To donate to The Louisiana Wall, visit bit.ly/2w6fFqS.
—Reach Sara Butler at email@example.com.