La Salle’s newest event venue soon will be operational as the downtown building, known as the Central Garage building, on the corner of Wright and First streets nears completion.
The building was transferred from the city of La Salle to local developer Mike Bird about four years ago but it has been geared toward an event space for only a couple years.
Bird said he took on the challenge of maintaining the building and started by developing the downstairs space before shifting his focus to the square footage above.
“So we developed the downstairs and I was trying to figure out what to do with the front and upstairs,” Bird said. “With the upstairs, the first original thought was to make really nice, high-end luxury apartments or something.”
Bird thought with the amount of space apartments may be a waste of square footage and then shifted his thinking into creating a unique event space for the community to enjoy.
Bird and his crew started digging into the building and continued to discover bits and pieces of history. They discovered the upstairs was once the Auditorium Ballroom where guests, such as Louis Armstrong visited and performed.
“There were tickets that we were finding, old paper tickets, and so we were like, ‘Oh, this is cool,’ ” Bird said. “People wanted to have events down here even when there was really nothing down here; just a raw construction space.”
With the public’s interest and the history of the building in mind, Bird created a unique space complete with the front room and large upstairs event space.
The downstairs space is equipped with a bar and will be set up almost like a traditional cigar bar for additional space for event goers to utilize.
Upstairs is a large ballroom with plenty of sunlight that also will include a bridal suite and restrooms for bridal parties. The upstairs also has a bar and some of the logistics of the project still are being finalized by the developers.
Because of the recent pandemic and the closing of other event spaces from around the country, Bird was able to gather many pieces including light fixtures and a baby grand piano from facilities that had to close their doors.
“I just drove to Nebraska to a ballroom and we achieved a lot of cool parts and antique pieces,” Bird said. “Stuff that will be beneficial to the ballroom here. It’s been a lot of running around and getting things done.”
Bird and his father created a chandelier that hangs above the main staircase. The chandelier was made by using various pieces to create its one-of-a-kind look.
Bird said he made up his mind for an event space right before the beginning of the pandemic that caused a many-month halt on the project.
He said he was gathering funds and setting up financing with the bank to start the groundwork on the project before the funds and the event industry came to an abrupt stop.
“I wasn’t able to confirm funds and do things for four or five months,” Bird said. “Everything kind of went to a screeching halt and obviously the entertainment industry completely fell off the face of the earth. We kind of missed the bullet on that one.”
There are many subcontractors working to complete various parts of the upstairs space, such as brand new hardwood flooring and the anchoring of the HVAC system.
“There’s a lot of moving parts going and of course in the construction world, this world is the worst year that I’ve ever had in 16 years trying to keep logistics moving properly,” Bird said.
Bird said many events have already been lined up for the space including a wedding scheduled for just a few weeks from now.
The slowdown of the project allowed Bird to organize the project more. The building will continue to be a work in progress as Bird opens.