A local businessman’s vision to save an iconic landmark in downtown Van Buren is generating added excitement about the city’s revitalization effort for the historic Main Street.
Jim Petty took members of Van Buren Original on a tour of the 800 block of Main Street on Wednesday to explain his “ah, ha” moment he had which has led to the purchase of the former Cottage Cafe and the adjoining buildings to North Eighth Street.
“I have always loved the Cottage Cafe building which in recent years has fallen on difficult times,” Petty said. “It caught my eye and I decided I want to preserve it. I love what I do in real estate, but I enjoy renovating historic buildings.”
The preservation effort has led to a Pasta Grill restaurant and gourmet popcorn store and continues to grow.
Petty has purchased additional buildings to the corner of Eighth and Main streets in order to shore up crumpling shared walls and to make way for a deck with outside seating, an additional restaurant and space to rent.
“I could not buy just want I needed,” he said, “so I am buying all the way to Eighth and Main.”
A food truck court also is planned for the property at 900 Main St., which formerly housed Sharon’s Dog Grooming and a two-story vacant house at Ninth and Webster.
Petty said he is being selective with his revitalization in an effort to bring local people to downtown with something the city does not currently offer.
“What Jim is doing with the old Cottage Cafe and his development of a truck truck court will be significant for the community and downtown,” said Rusty Myers, director of VBO.
He said Petty’s renovation effort will take Main Street to a new level of character and appeal.
“Downtown is about to get even more exciting,” Myers said.
Pasta Grill - Van Buren will be owned and operated by Phil and Cathi Payton. Pasta Grill was founded by Wes and Suzanne Hall in 1994. Six locations have been opened. Of these, four have been sold to individuals. The Halls currently own locations in Russellville and Conway. The Van Buren location will be the seventh opened under the guidance and expertise of the Hall’s 22 years in the business.
Pasta Grill is a casual fine dining restaurant that serves traditional Italian cuisine, prime steak collections and seafood dishes, many of which have a Cajun flair such as shrimp and grits and crawfish cornbread.
The local Pasta Grill will be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Van Buren Original, a non-profit organization, was formed in 2015 “to unify and champion for a vibrant downtown.” The Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Commission partnered with VBO by appropriating $30,000 to fund a strategic improvement plan by MAHG Architecture of what downtown has to offer local residents as well as tourists and what it needs to prosper.
Since then, the City of Van Buren has partnered with VBO, advertising and promotion commission and The Old Town Merchants Association to improve the historic downtown area.
“We are very excited for the anticipated opening of the newest restaurant, Pasta Grill, and also the new gourmet popcorn store, What’s Poppin’, that will be such a great addition to Main Street,” said Alan Foliart, president of TOTMA.
“We have seen the opening this past summer of the new Freedom Park,” Foliart said. “With the restoration of these older buildings to house new businesses for hospitality and retail, with the addition of our decking across the entire back creating a nightlife area, and with the addition of the food truck court area across Webster Street, the 800 block will become complete.”
Foliart said the Center for Art and Education’s new home in the 400 block will provide bookends for a vibrant Main Street.
“It has been a slow transition and will continue to be with construction as we move forward, however, it is all sustainable development for economic growth and to strengthen our city,” he said.
Petty said a focal point of the renovation will be the deck to be constructed behind Chapters on Main, What’s Poppin’ and Pasta Grill.
He noted the traffic in the area and three city-owned parking lots which provide free parking.
Foliart pointed out that many of the current utility lines will be buried.