Last Friday, just after Bill Owen formally announced his candidacy for City Council, Grady Regas, the sometime restaurateur who hosted the event in the old porte-cochere for his family's now-defunct restaurant, invited the small assemblage inside the landmark restaurant, which ended its 91-year run just six months ago, to hear more about an idea he calls "Regas Square."
As a presentation, it was comically disorderly, but the images on the PowerPoint, prepared by architect David Hutchins, depict a new-urbanist dream: apartments, offices, shops, and restaurants in a five-story mixed-use building; a boutique hotel; a five-floor parking garage; and a small, lush park. It's intended to occupy the entire block bounded by Gay, Depot, Williams, and Magnolia, including the area where a tire store is currently located (its future there is apparently negotiable). Regas seems inclined to want to preserve the restaurant's structure, which is actually the lower part of a grand old beaux-arts hotel, decapitated of its decaying upper floors that were added about half a century ago.
His dream, Regas said, would "bring it back full circle." He's referring to a fact most don't know: that this was once a block of tall buildings, especially hotels that served the passenger-train traffic that dominated this neighborhood for more than a century. Mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero, who seemed very interested, noted that it seemed important to the city to have something on this sometimes-neglected northern end of Gay, between the highway and the freight yards.
Though the current city project outside to widen and improve the sidewalks might have made Regas Square look like something already underway, Regas admitted there's no ground-breaking to announce, and there's no financing. "This is just one person's idea of what is possible," Regas said. "It's just a big idea. It would take a lot of people to get behind it to make it happen. This is a starting point for a conversation."