Northampton License Commission may revoke two unused liquor licenses owned by IHEG mogul Eric Suher

Tuesday, November 05, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Time may be running out for businessman Eric Suher to use liquor licenses he owns for two downtown locations.

The License Commission is expected to discuss Wednesday — for the fourth time in the last year — whether to revoke or suspend Suher-owned liquor licenses for the former Baptist Church at the corner of Main and West streets and for the former Blue Note Guitar space on Center Street.

Commissioners have expressed concern at four meetings in the last year that Suher has kept the licenses for several years without using them, but they have not taken action because Suher has assured them renovation projects at those locations are moving ahead.

In a memo to the commission, City Solicitor Alan Seewald said commissioners have a “substantial basis” to revoke Suher’s licenses or decline to renew them because Suher has failed to use them after a reasonable period of time.

“In my opinion, the failure to conduct the licensed businesses constitutes ‘cause’ for rejecting the renewal applications for these premises, particularly where, as here, the failure extends over several years,” Seewald wrote.

Suher could not be reached for comment Monday, though he is expected to attend the commission’s meeting Wednesday. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.

Suher has been converting the former Baptist Church at 298 Main St. into a function hall for weddings, conferences and similar events. He told commissioners a year ago that the business would be open this summer, a timeline he later revised to this fall when questioned by commissioners again last spring. Suher bought the historic structure 19 years ago and filed plans for its renovation with the city in 2006.

The liquor license for the church, which Suher owns under the name 4 West S Corporation, is an all-alcohol annual license approved in the fall of 2008. It has not been used for five years, nor are there open building permits for the church project, Seewald said in his memo.

Suher is also renovating the former Blue Note Guitar space at 26-28 Center St. into a small lounge with food and beverage service. The license is a seasonal all-alcohol permit that Suher intends to convert to a year-round, all-alcohol license — one of five licenses in the city approved by the state for such a conversion. Seewald said the license has not been used for four years and there are no open building permits for the project.

Suher told the commission that the new business would be open by early fall, a timeline that he has revised on several occasions when asked by the commission.

“Since his initial meeting with the commission last October, Mr. Suher has not renewed any permits necessary to complete the renovations at the two premises, and according to the building commissioner neither location is close to ready for occupancy,” Seewald wrote.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has also asked the commission for an explanation of what it describes as inactive “pocket licenses” in the city. The state agency defines a pocket license as one in which the holder no longer follows the terms of the license and therefore can be subject to modification or loss of license. Seewald said in his memo that Suher’s licenses are “without question” pocket licenses.

Suher told the commission at a meeting a year ago that his liquor licenses do not fit the definition of pocket license because they have specific locations attached to them that he has no intention of moving or selling. A pocket license, he explained, typically applies to people who own liquor licenses with nowhere to use them and with the intent to sell them for a profit.

It’s unclear what would happen to the liquor licenses should the commission vote to not renew them. Mary Midura, the License Commission clerk, said the city must notify Suher and the ABCC in writing if it decides to revoke the licenses. Suher would then have five days to appeal such a decision to the ABCC.

Given that the city already exceeds the number of liquor licenses allowed by state law, odds are it would have to seek permission from the ABCC to reuse the licenses.

“It’s not crystal clear because of the state’s quota system,” Midura said.