IHEG owner Eric Suher given deadlines to open new venues or face revocation of Northampton liquor licenses
The former Baptist Church and the corner of Elm and West Streets in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Eric Suher will likely be a very busy man over the next few months.
The License Commission has given the owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group firm deadlines before which he must act on a pair of liquor licenses he holds.
Suher was given 60 days to have the former Blue Note Guitar space at 26-28 Center St. up and running or face revocation of the seasonal all-alcohol license associated with it.
He was also given until June 14 to have renovations complete on the former Baptist Church at 298 Main St. and have it operational or face similar revocation.
For the church project, Suher must also keep the commission apprised of progress on getting the facility open by the deadline.
The fate of the licenses came into question after City Solicitor Alan Seewald sent a memo to the commission saying there was a “substantial basis” to revoke the licenses because they hadn’t been used in a reasonable amount of time.
The matter was discussed at a Wednesday hearing before the commission.
Commission Chairman William Rosen said Suher has held onto the license for the Baptist Church property for 5½ years without using it.
“We are past the point of reasonableness,” Rosen said.
The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission defines a pocket license as one that’s being held but not being used, and therefore can be modified or revoked. Seewald said in his memo that Suher’s licenses are “without question” pocket licenses.
Suher disagreed, saying his understanding of a pocket license is one that’s acquired and held for the purpose of selling it at a profit.
Suher said his licenses have specific locations associated with them and he has no intentions of selling them.
Suher said the time line for completing renovations in the church has had to be adjusted since the original building permits were taken out in 2009.
Suher said renovations weren’t able to continue at the church because building codes had changed since the original permits were taken out and new permits must be applied for and approved before work can continue.
Rosen said he understood there may have been setbacks due to the age of the building, the economic recession and other unexpected factors, but it wasn’t enough to explain such a lengthy delay.
“Your delay is now to the point we can no longer ignore it,” Rosen said.
Seewald said there were other potential licensees who would put one of the licenses to immediate use, but did not name them at the hearing.
“Basically, we want to see the license in operation or give it to someone else who will put it into operation,” Rosen said. “We’re not really getting any concrete assurances that this thing is ever going to be in operation.”
Suher said no one has ever come to him about the purchase of any of the licenses he holds.
According to Seewald, the Baptist Church license is an “over-quota” license in Northampton, meaning if it were to be revoked, it would not be made available again because the city would be at its limit for the number of licenses it’s allowed.
“You’d rather give up the license than give me some time to get this finished?” Suher asked Rosen. “I must have done something really bad to you at some point.”
In response, Rosen told Suher he was out of line and reminded him he had praised his business acumen and contributions to the city twice prior to that exchange.
Suher said the plan for the church property is to open an “event-driven” building that would stage concerts, lectures, and could be rented out for meetings or weddings.
The Center Street location, Suher says, can be running by early January.
He said he plans on applying with the ABCC to convert the space’s seasonal license, which allows alcohol sales between April 1 and Jan. 15, to a year-round license.
Plans are to convert that space into a small lounge with food and beverage service.
Rosen said having the firm dates in mind will hopefully spur the projects to completion.
“It focuses the mind to have a deadline,” he said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.