If the walls at La Boheme could talk, owner Mike Comeau is convinced they’d have endless stories to tell.
Comeau and his wife Connie took over the French restaurant and quaint bed and breakfast in 2006 but after more than a decade, the couple is closing its doors.
He said death in the family and yearning to spend more time with their grandchildren made the decision to retire La Boheme a bit easier.
But the couple is still sentimental about the building and the long-time customers.
The Comeaus hosted their elaborate wedding inside the venue and during the Edmonton Oilers’ glory days, it was where The Great One and friends used to dine in the private wine cellar.
“Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier — of course I call it the boys on the bus,” Comeau said. “They were here and they would actually enter through the back kitchen.”
The last dinner at La Boheme will be served on March 17, 2018 but the Comeaus are not walking away for good. They worked with the new owner to map out a future for the historic building known as Gibbard Block.
“The last thing the city needs is another new building or another parking lot.”
The Edmonton property developer said he plans to bring the piece of historic property back to its “former glory.”
Nestled in the Highlands neighbourhood at 6425 112 Avenue, the brick three-storey building is more than 100 years old.
Built in 1912 by William T. Gibbard, the building has housed luxury apartments; some of the first in Edmonton to have electricity and running water.
“That whole strip is just a magnificent little main street,” said Antoine Palmer, head of Sparrow Capital.
Palmer said he was drawn to the Victorian style and the skylights in the building. But old buildings can be unpredictable.
A $430,000 heritage grant from the city will go a long way to help preserve what’s already inside like the original pressed-tin ceilings.
Masonry work, plumbing and electrical will need to be redone. Palmer said an elevator will also be installed and crews will work to make the heritage building energy efficient.
“If we’re going to do this project, we have to make this building last another 100 years.”
Construction of the $4-million project is slated to begin in the spring, with an opening date in the new year.
The first floor will be home to two restaurants and a boutique wine shop. The second floor will house office space, and on the top floor, “micro-habitation” units for long-term rental or hotel stays will be constructed.
“They’ll be smaller units with Murphy beds and functional space-saving furniture,” Palmer said.
The units could potentially house students from Concordia University.
“We want to create an eco-system inside of the building… to have cross-pollination between different uses really creates a vibrant kind of dynamic.”
Before selling the building, the Comeaus said they wanted to make sure Gibbard Block would remain a focal point in the neighbourhood.
Sparrow Capital was the right fit, so much so, the La Boheme owners said they invested in the future plan.
“We were all in,” Comeau said. “We believe in it that much.”
The Comeaus plan to sell off the ornate furnishings inside.
The Highlands Historical Society and Sparrow Capital will host a pre-construction open house and tour of the building on March 31.
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