Northampton License Commission grants Eric Suher one month to apply for transfer of unused liquor license to Center Street space

Thursday, July 03, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Area business owner Eric Suher came within one vote Wednesday of losing another liquor license that has not been put into use since it was issued about five years ago.

Meanwhile, who ultimately gets the license Suher lost earlier this year may come down to chance as the commission determines if it can grant it to a new applicant via a lottery system.

The Northampton License Commission voted 2-1 not to revoke the license for the former Baptist Church on Main Street.

Instead, Suher, owner of several properties in the region and the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, appeared before the commission at its meeting Wednesday and said he wants to transfer the license to the property at 26-28 Center St., the former Blue Note Guitars building.

The license attached to that property was revoked by the commission in May after it too was not put to use for about five years and Suher missed deadlines to have it in operation.

Commission member Elaine Reall made the motion to revoke the license rather than entertain the transfer option.

“I feel this has gone on way, way too long,” Reall said.

Commission Chairman William Rosen said he was prepared to revoke Suher’s license on Wednesday, but since Suher did come to the commission with one of the options he was given at its June meeting, he felt it would not be fair to proceed with the revocation.

Commission member Brian Campedelli agreed that giving Suher a set of options in June — including transferring the license, putting it into operation or returning it to the city — and then revoking the license when he proffered the transfer option, would have been unfair.

Suher said a proposal at last month’s commission meeting to have the license put into use by October was not realistic and opted to transfer the license rather than risk its revocation.

Suher said while contractors are working diligently on renovations inside the former church, it will likely not be finished this fall.

Suher said he did not want to come to the commission and say October was possible and have to return again to explain why that would not be the case.

Despite voting down the revocation, Rosen expressed frustration over the length of the process to get the proposed 15,000-square-foot function hall open.

“I really don’t care about the church,” Rosen said. “As far as I’m concerned that thing will never get built.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Suher responded. “Because it is going to get built.”

Suher bought the former church around 1994 and filed plans for its renovation in 2006.

The commission gave Suher until its August meeting to have his application for the transfer prepared.

If the commission accepts the transfer application, it would need to be approved by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which can take another two to three weeks, according to Suher and the License Commission.

Suher said once the transfer has state approval, he would be able to open the Center Street property.

License transfer

At the close of the meeting, the commission set a timetable for how to grant a new owner for the license that was revoked from Suher in May.

Northampton only has a limited number of licenses available to provide to businesses. About 12 people have expressed interest in purchasing the license when it becomes available, according to the commission.

Suher himself will not be able to apply for it, because one of the conditions set by the commission is that no new applicant can have had a license revoked or canceled.

Application packets will be available from the city beginning Thursday. The applications must be completed and returned to the city within 60 days.

The applicants will be reviewed in late September and, if the commission gets approval from City Solicitor Alan Seewald, the winning applicant would be selected via a lottery system in early October.

Other imposed conditions include the winning applicant having to convert the license —now a seasonal license — to a year-round license for a one-time fee of $10,000 and requiring the applicant to have the license in operation within six months of its approval from the ABCC.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.