DOWNEY − Revitalization efforts in Downtown Downey picked up some momentum this week as the city planning commission paved the way for another upscale restaurant and lounge along Downey Avenue.
In a unanimous vote, the commissioners approved plans to convert the vacant office building on the northeast corner of 2nd Street and Downey Avenue into Cielo Restaurant & Lounge, a steakhouse with a unique feature -- a 2,650-sq.-ft. rooftop bar.
The business is a joint venture between Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and Downey resident Mario Trujillo, Downey Councilman Fernando Vasquez, and Ralph Verdugo, who previously attempted a similar concept at the Rives Mansion in 2013.
According to the staff report, Verdugo and his partners plan on repurposing the existing building at 11040 Downey Ave. by renovating the inside for fine dining and by adding a 408-sq.-ft. patio in the front and a 914-sq.-ft. patio in the rear of the restaurant.
Two cascading stairwells made of wrought iron and glass will transport patrons from the back patio to the rooftop lounge, which will includes a bar, dance floor, and space for live entertainment. Similar to the roof lounge, the ground floor dining area will also incorporate a dance floor and a live band area.
Verdugo said he hopes Cielo becomes a high-end option for Downey residents who often feel they must seek luxury outside of the city.
"The city is growing, we have a lot of good places in Downey, but I want to bring something to the community that we can be proud of," said Verdugo on Wednesday. "Del Rae is a great restaurant, but it's in Pico Rivera. We want that same delicious concept to make Downey a destination."
Artist renderings of the Cielo Restaurant & Lounge indicate that the establishment will look similar to the existing structure. Verdugo plans to reclaim the yellow brick veneer and oatmeal-colored stucco exterior, but will add extra windows and light fixtures.
Clear glass panels will surround the rooftop lounge allowing patrons to look onto Downey Avenue.
Ahead of approving the conditional use permit, several planning commissioners raised concerns over the allotted parking space available for the restaurant. As an office building, the property only required 12 parking spaces, but as a restaurant, that number jumps to 52 spaces.
Jessica Flores, an associate planner for the city of Downey, said that leaves the developers with the responsibility of providing 40 more parking spaces.
In the staff report, Verdugo agrees to offer additional parking by leasing spaces from Downey United Methodist Church, located at 10801 Downey Ave., and providing optional valet parking for patrons.
Due to the necessity of valet, the strip of curb along the south side of the restaurant on 2nd Street will serve exclusively as loading and unloading during the restaurant's business hours.
Once completed, Cielo will open daily at 7 a.m. and close at 2 a.m. seven days a week.
"You could have put this [restaurant] somewhere else, but it's good to see people from Downey invest in Downey," said Hector Lujan, chairman of the city planning commission.
Commissioner Matias Flores also praised the project as something that could raise the bar for future development in Downtown Downey.
"We've heard of people talking about a rooftop concept -- here it is," he said. "The Downtown Downey Specific Plan allows for three-story buildings. This might be the catalyst for more third story buildings and rooftop concepts."
"I want to stress, this is a restaurant with entertainment -- not a nightclub," said commissioner Jim Rodriguez, who feared the outdoor live entertainment could become a nuisance if not restrained. "But overall, I'm proud of the work you've done and I think it's going to be terrific for the city."