For Banditos, a Construction Hiatus
But the Comedy Showcase soldiers on.
by Patti Smith
From the December, 2017 issue
When will Banditos return? It's been months since the downtown Mexican eatery has served up tacos and margaritas to patrons. In July, a Facebook post announced that Banditos would be closed July 31 to September 1; in September, a reply to a comment pushed the reopening date back to December 1, citing "construction delays."
"Banditos will be operational as soon as the city deems it safe to reopen for business and all permits have been approved," promises Joe Barbat of Barbat Holdings. After a long delay, Barbat recently resumed work on a massive reconstruction of its S. Fourth Ave. building, and Banditos closed right at the time some building issues with the city arose. By the time those had been resolved, Barbat says, the steel contractor had taken on a new job; the search for a new one took five or six weeks.
Built in 1928, the building between Washington and Liberty originally housed Montgomery Ward (then known as a "farm store"). Mid-century saw several fires, and installation of a "modern" metal facade. It was converted into a (very) mini-mall called Town Center Plaza, but longtime owner Dale Newman had numerous conflicts with the city and his lenders, and finally lost the building to foreclosure.
In 2013, Detroit-area developer Barbat purchased the property from the bank and got the city to approve his plan to add four stories of condos. After a series of fits and starts, the old building's second floor was demolished earlier this year, making way for the new steel structure that will house the condos.
Barbat says he has an agreement with Banditos, but can't disclose the details. No one from the restaurant could be reached for comment.
Some of the delays may stem from reinforcements that were needed to support the new structure. Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase owner Claudia Neeb said that steel columns need to be dropped straight through the building into the basement.
"We are currently erecting steel on site,"
Barbat confirms. "Immediately following steel will be our masonry contractors, roofers, and window contractors. At that point the building will be enclosed, and we will commence our interior renovations."
Unlike Banditos, the comedy club remained open during the work--but even they, Neeb says, "can't be there during active construction" as the roof is peeled back, the columns are dropped down, and the roof is resealed and secured.
"We still don't have signage even though we opened [here] in 2014," Neeb says. "We have to wait for them to finish the front [of the building] before we can get started." Because it's in a historic district, the club would have to get permission from the historical commission before any signage could be added.
"We've been in business for thirty-three years, and we've managed the last three without a sign," Neeb adds. "But now not only is the front of the building covered, but there is a pedestrian walkway there" under the builders' scaffolding. That's particularly hurt attendance at the later shows--"I think it's because it is very dark there, and there isn't much foot traffic." She adds with a laugh, "I tell people to look for the crane that has been out in front! If they can't find us in the dark--just aim for that crane!"
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