Next step for Heard Freighthouse Food Park comes Monday

By T. Scott Boatright

The next step for a new bar to be built in downtown Ruston comes Monday when the city of Ruston’s May Planning and Zoning Meeting is held at City Hall.

At that meeting, Desi Bourgeois, owner of Bourgeois Restaurant Group, will appear before the Planning and Zoning Board to request a conditional use permit for a bar to be developed at  Heard Freighthouse Food Park, located in downtown Ruston at 93 E. Railroad Ave.

Bourgeois, who owns and operates Grown and Grazed, one of the three food trucks at the park, which also includes Staple Sandwich Co. and Bad Wolf BBQ, wants to first add a bar to the Heard Freighthouse Food Park with hopes of eventually also adding a full-service restaurant to be located next to the bar he wants to house inside the Heard Warehouse building.

A conditional use permit is a zoning exception that allows the use of a property in a non-conforming way. 

In a March 25 election, Ruston voters approved propositions to expand alcohol sales within the city limits, opening the door for sale of high-content beverage alcohol for consumption on the premises in the city, or in layman’s terms – allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol in a traditional bar.

“It boils down to this – if you want to be a bar that’s not tied to the service of food, and the ‘51%’ rule, then you have to seek conditional use,” Bourgeois said. “If we want to have a restaurant and be held accountable to the ‘51%’ food rule, we could just apply for the permit. But if we want to have just a bar, then we have to seek a conditional use permit.”

Earlier this spring, construction was completed on Phase I at Heard Freighthouse Park, consisting of restoring the exterior of the Heard Warehouse and adding a sidewalk and stage as well as two new food truck spaces to the food park area.

Obtaining a conditional use permit opens the door to begin working to secure funding and then renovating the Heard warehouse located next to the food park to create a small bar with restrooms.

“That permit will hopefully help us qualify for a second round of funding,” Bourgeois said. “And if the permit comes through, and we feel that it will and things will then be ‘on go,’ it’s not an intense buildout – not a lot of new structure to go in. 

“We were very fortunate in that Origin Bank helped us with the first phase of the plans as far as funding. I think we’re proving viability to them as we go, so hopefully they’ll be on board for this second round. Everything suggests that as long as we continue to perform the way we’ve been performing, I think we can be able to potentially do this Phase II with them as a partner. They’ve been a big help to us and we’d love to continue this relationship moving forward.”

Bourgeois said he envisions a craft cocktail bar that he feels could be a big boon for the city and especially downtown Ruston.

“If all of this happens the way we hope and believe it will, if we start staying open for longer hours, and bring in more jobs, we’ll be creating more opportunities,” Bourgeois said. “(Louisiana Tech University) and the city have partnered well in recent years to really drive Ruston forward. When Ruston moves forward, the university moves forward, and if we want to entice capital investors to tie into the university, like has happened with Tech Pointe I and Tech Pointe II, those people won’t likely be coming from Louisiana.

“They’ll be coming from places like California, Texas and other places that offer more social engagement opportunities that we as a city need to provide if we want to help the university continue to grow, which will by default help Ruston grow. What we envision with Phase II and Phase III can help do that. It will also help provide those needs for area residents. We believe it’s a win-win situation, and it starts with hopefully getting that conditional use permit next week.”