(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
When La Chiesa closed its doors New Year's Eve, after providing a final evening of food, drink and fun for its patrons, it concluded the run of one of Spencer's most unique dining attractions.
Jeremy and Trisha Neppl, owners of La Chiesa, announced their intentions in December to open a new dining establishment in the Lakes area and served their final meals and offered a farewell to local diners with specials to close out 2012.
Now the landmark atop Gary's on the River development sits empty, leaving building owners Dave and Leanne Jacobsen with a space to fill in the complex.
La Chiesa opened in December 2009 with the Neppls' offering unique culinary Italian-based dishes and pizza baked in an open brick oven for lunch and dinner. The remodeled St. Stephen's Episcopal Church served as the anchor to the development, and was the first piece of the puzzle to open.
Since that time, BonBon Frozen Yogurt and The Bear -- a beer and wine bar -- have opened at the site. The Jacobsens have both been busy preparing a final space on the ground level of the building for the much anticipated StartupCity Spencer site which the couple expect to fill with its first occupants in 2013. StartupCity Spencer will serve as a technology incubator.
With plans to open the technology incubator in the final stages, the local couple can now turn their attention to finding a new occupant for the empty site overlooking the Little Sioux River.
"We've received some inquiries and done some inquiring ourselves, but there are no definite plans at this moment," Dave said.
"Jeremy and Trisha did a nice job up there," he said, noting they helped put Gary's on the River on the map. "He's an excellent chef and we're going to miss him. We wish him well up north."
Whoever occupies the church building is going to have to "fit."
"Our vision is to bring young creatives back (to Spencer)," Dave continued. "Considering this has become somewhat of a regional landmark, we want to see the right establishment in there."
"The role it plays in the overall Riverfront Development project, this is quite an opportunity," Leanne suggested, noting both the development of the area as well as plans to make it a destination location.
"I'm sure organizations will come that see this exciting opportunity," Gary said.
The Jacobsens plan a full force marketing effort to fill the space with a restaurant that serves the demographic of the region.
"These past three years have shown us that Spencer -- not just Spencer, but the whole area -- craves something new and unique," Leanne said.
"We know for a fact a lot of local business people came here for meals. When a client, or a group of business people, came to town, this is where they brought them," Dave said.
"Everybody should be able to find something they love here," Leanne said. "It is something maybe more of the general population should enjoy. But we want to continue to bring Spencer a unique, and excellent, dining experience."
"We know one thing," Dave added, "pizza will be a part of it with this pizza oven."
Getting the towering steeple of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church from its former location on East Fifth Street to the current, riverside spot on the evening of June 16, 2009, was no small deal.
Emergency responders blocked off Grand Avenue so building movers Berghorst & Son could begin the turn from East Fifth Street onto Grand Avenue and again from Grand Avenue to West Park Street.
The Jacobsens will continue to work to make sure the main piece of property continues to serve the population of the area.