LAFAYETTE — A half-block-long building on Heymann Boulevard at Travis Street highlights the changes happening in the Oil Center. A new events center, the Palmetto Club, opened there last year. One eatery opened recently and another will open in a couple months.
“I’ve seen great changes,” said Abigail Ransonet, a business consultant who has been managing the Palmetto Club. “I’ve seen new restaurants. I’ve seen retail kind of just spark up. It’s been a really great time in the Oil Center’s history, where, for a while, it was forgotten,”
The club sits in the building where A La Carte once stood, before developer Ruth Ann Menutis purchased the building and retrofitted it for several new businesses.
That development is part of revitalization under way in the Oil Center, an area that generally runs along Pinhook Road between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and South College Road.
It appears to be the beginning of a new era for the historic area rebranded as “The Oil Center: The Center of it All.”
“New owners are coming in, buying and remodeling and really giving the Oil Center a facelift,” said Chavanne Stine, executive director of the Oil Center Association. “There’s been several businesses that have retired. It’s an exciting time because we’ve got a lot of new faces and businesses and it’s a broad spectrum from retail to furniture design to restaurants and art galleries. It’s been an exciting time.”
In just the last year, Stine said, The Bird’s Nest, Mixology, Harold Clark, American Pop Art, Lafayette Art Gallery, Acme Burger, the Palmetto Club, Greek Expressions, Glamour House boutique, Joie de Vive Salon and Teche Federal Bank have all moved into the Oil Center.
Driven by lunch
Ready Fit Meals, an eatery that sells healthy, prepared meals to eat in or take out, will open Monday at 317 Heymann Blvd. and will be the first location of the new brand, owner Dan Lansdown said.
“We chose this area here because of the lunch crowd,” Lansdown said. “You have the Lafayette General (Medical Center) here and the surgical center. There’s a lot of the businesses and offices right here. There’s a lot of people looking for meals very quick.”
But the business will also open at 6:30 a.m. to catch the morning crowd, he said.
“It’s just a convenient location for a lot of people in one little area,” he said.
Ready Fit Meals will add to the Oil Center’s growing reputation as a destination for food, restaurants and boutiques, said Lafayette Economic Development Authority CEO Gregg Gothreaux, who has watched several new businesses open there in a short amount of time.
“It’s driven,” Gothreaux said. “I’m sure by the greater community but I’m sure Lafayette General creates an impetus for a lot of that activity with their huge workforce. The families of the people who are at the hospital visit businesses and the Oil Center, and that will continue with Lafayette General’s continued commitment to be in the Oil Center and grow significantly in the Oil Center.”
A long history
The Oil Center was “the center of it all” 60 years ago and has long been embedded in Lafayette’s history. In the early 1950s, oil people concluded that it would be in the best interests of the industry to find some location where they could establish an oil center for the many offices that were scattered in between Lake Charles and Lafayette, according to “The Center: A History of the Development of Lafayette, La.” by Philip Dismukes, a book published by the City of Lafayette in 1972.
“The Oil Center is where Lafayette begun and built around. You get that vibe that everyone is coming together now,” Stine said. “I think for some years there wasn’t as much pull from all the business owners so it’s exciting to see them all on the same page and get excited about all these businesses and art galleries and specialty stores. We’ve got a lot more art than we’ve had in the past. Overall, it’s just a real eclectic nook in the city.”
The Oil Center came into being on land that had previously been used as entrepreneur Maurice Heymann’s nursery and by 1956, the then-Heymann Oil Center included 30 offices, several restaurants, a private club, a post office and a few shops.
“The Oil Center was created with the concept that it would be a center of activity of our oil industry and now it’s become a part of activity for our entire community,” Gothreaux said. “It’s fantastic that it’s continued to serve a vital purpose and not fallen into some of the things that it could have fallen into.
“The people that envisioned it did it right, and I think it’s being re-envisioned well.”
More than a medical center
Ransonet said her company saw an opportunity in the Oil Center after it purchased an office building in the area after Hurricane Katrina.
“Within the first year, we were 100 percent occupied and have been ever since,” she said. “We typically have a waiting list for our office suites. We saw success here in the Oil Center due to the people, talking to people on the streets, talking to people who walk around for lunch, talking to people at the post office, talking to people who just like to walk around the Oil Center on their breaks and what is it that they were hoping to see here and they were looking for a resurgence in just attitude.”
The building that houses the Palmetto Club also will be home to Ready Fit Meals and Café Bella, the reincarnation of Bella Figura restaurant, which is leaving its Kaliste Saloom location to make room for La Madeleine Country French Café.
The façade will be updated, something that other business owners have done during a time when preservation is encouraged, Stine said.
“We have great buildings; we have great businesses that are here,” said Rasonet, who also sits on the Oil Center Association board. “It seems to be that much of the focus has been on downtown or on River Ranch or on other corridors of economic development and the Oil Center just needed to open its eyes and so we coined the term, ‘it is the center of it all.’”