Panorama progress: Venue closed longer than it was ever open

Published 4:43 am Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Panorama Music House, once a popular live music venue in downtown Lake Charles, has a unique distinction of being closed longer than it was open after Hurricane Laura left it severely damaged in August 2020.

Jay Ecker, one of three partners, said Monday that the goal is to open Panorama “in some capacity” by Mardi Gras. Repairs at the historic Broad Street site have been ongoing since June. The front facade, left collapsed by Hurricane Laura, was torn down and replaced with new structural steel and concrete, windows and a partial rooftop bar.

The bathrooms, game room, video poker room and kitchen are all being remodeled, Ecker said. On the second floor, an indoor balcony bar will wrap around a new outdoor rooftop area and a new private event space that was once an apartment/office. The venue will have all new furniture, cameras, TVs and lighting.

“It’s going to be so gratifying to have it open after the amount of time and money we’ve put into it,” Ecker said.

Renovating a historic building isn’t cheap. Frank Randazzo, Panorama co-partner, said repair costs are already “well over $1 million” and could eventually reach $1.5 million. Through it all, he, Ecker and fellow partner Buck Maraist never once considered abandoning the project. The three are also partners at Rikenjaks Brewing Company, the Ryan Street restaurant open since 2016.

“We’re eager to invest into Lake Charles,” Randazzo said. “We feel strongly this is going to be an epicenter. It’s going to revitalize the downtown area. We’re going to give the Lake Charles community something they’ve never seen before.”

Constructing a new building would have been the easier route, but Ecker, Randazzo and Maraist all agreed on renovating the existing site, no matter the obstacles.

“To be able to reuse a building like this that has so much history is worth it, but it’s just a pain,” Ecker said.

Ecker said he, Randazzo and Maraist have worked closely with the Lake Charles Downtown Development Authority during the rebuilding. Some concepts that seemed like good ideas on paper quickly became impractical under modern construction, he said.

“That back-and-forth has been essential,” he said. “If we didn’t have that, we would be further behind.”

Renovating Panorama hasn’t been without delays, Randazzo said. While fabricating steel for the front of the building, crews discovered that the upstairs area was resting on a brick ledger. It took two months to decide the best solution of erecting and capping a false wall.

“When you uncover something to fix a problem, you often uncover more problems,” he said.

The renovations also required a sprinkler system to be installed. The discovery of a hidden attic area delayed that work by a month, Randazzo said.

What remains of the historic Panorama sign that was displayed in front of the building now hangs on a wall next to the stage. Ecker said they had to get the sign out of the dumpster three times, despite telling mitigation crews to not throw it away. He said a replica sign for the front of the building will be constructed with modern materials, including LED lights.

Both Ecker and Randazzo spoke of a supernatural presence at the building. Ecker recalled strange occurrences when he ran the old Rikenjaks at the same location from 2001-2003.

“There’s definitely a ghost in this building,” Randazzo said. “Stuff has been moved around.”

Randazzo said he is confident Panorama will be a popular destination once it reopens.

“We get messages constantly on social media asking when we are opening,” he said.

Panorama opened around Mardi Gras of 2019. Randazzo said the venue was starting to earn a reputation as regional destination for food and live music when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020. The business “limped along during COVID-19 shutdowns” before Hurricane Laura forced it to close for renovation, he said.

Since Hurricanes Laura and Delta, Ecker said downtown Lake Charles has been starving for live music.

“If you really look at the linchpin this place is for downtown, there’s not much live music,” he said. “As far as having a scene, we have to be back and attract more.”

Randazzo said he is eager to reopen Panorama and restore live music in the downtown district. Ecker said they are lucky to be under construction because some businesses have remained untouched since the hurricanes.

Reopening a revamped Panorama will be worth the wait, Ecker said.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s really going to be something people will be able to tell that we took the time to do it right,” he said.