The Empire Theater Building in NuLu | Photo by Stephen George

The Empire Theater Building in NuLu | Photo by Stephen George

Good news, NuLu.

The Empire Theater Building on East Market Street, home to a penny theater in the early 1900s and, much later, the restaurant Taco Punk, has sold to a pair of investors looking to revive the unoccupied space.

Scott Howe, an up-and-coming commercial real estate broker with Gant Hill & Associates, and Patrick Ley, a Louisville native and commercial real estate broker in Austin, closed on the building Tuesday. Howe didn’t disclose the sale price. It’s the first commercial property in Louisville for each of them.

The building at 736 E. Market St. has been vacant since Taco Punk — the restaurant about which seemingly everyone had a very strong opinion — closed in October. The space was on the front end of NuLu’s renaissance as the home of Toast, which began serving there in 2006.

We think Howe and Ley’s investment could help signal the next wave of capital coming into the neighborhood, which is primed for a new surge as the May start of construction nears on a multimillion-dollar streetscape beautification project. The building is right across the street from the proposed Hotel NuLu, which has hit some bumps but we’re assured remains on track. It’s adjacent to The Green Building, developer Gill Holland’s first NuLu project, which is about to get a new restaurant courtesy of Michael Trager-Kusman and the guys behind Rye. And it’s just a couple blocks west of the new Feast BBQ.

Not to mention the persistent rumors we’re hearing of a distillery heading for the ‘hood.

Howe says he and Ley have strong interest from a couple restaurants and a line of intrigued observers out the proverbial door. He says they’d like to place a chef-driven or local-foods concept there, something that surely fits the vibe of the neighborhood.

“We have a prospect list with some great local businesses as well as a few national franchises, but ultimately we want a good fit for what NuLu represents,” he tells IL. “We also plan on doing some preliminary renovations that the bulk of our potential tenants have requested, including bringing life to the rear of the space to make use of the new alley streetscape renovations.”

And here’s a cool wrinkle: Howe says a potential tenant is interested in returning the building to its former glory as a theater, along with possibly incorporating live music and other arts offerings. To which IL, as neighbors of the place, offers emphatic approval.

Howe and his wife, Mo McKnight Howe, are homeowners in nearby Butchertown and also own and operate Revelry Boutique Gallery, which is just a few doors down from the Empire Theater Building at 742 E. Market St. Howe says that makes his investment in its future even stronger.

“We see an integral part of what makes Market Street and NuLu so special in this building, and we want to see it have a successful, vibrant new life,” he says.

Part of that vibrancy is the unique design of the building, which hasn’t been described any better than the way Louisville writer Joe Manning did in this piece for the unfortunately defunct The Paper:

Its recessed portico, domed iron and glass ornamental canopy, and ornate half moon stained glass window — which announces simply and significantly the word “EMPIRE” — are the types of architectural features just striking enough to turn our heads and elicit the conscious understanding that something, some other thing, used to happen in here.

The building’s previous owners, Bill and Mary Lou Marzian, had owned it since 2005. Last fall, they bought out previous partners for $325,000, according to the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator.