'Firm deadline' missed, Eric Suher keeps unused Northampton liquor license anyway
The former Baptist Church and the corner of Elm and West Streets in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — It appears Northampton businessman Eric Suher will miss the city’s “firm deadline” of June 14 to put a liquor license he owns into operation.
Despite that, the city’s License Commission took no action on revoking the 5-year-old liquor license for the former Baptist Church on Main Street, instead putting the matter over until July, when it will be taken up again and a new fall or early-winter deadline may be set.
Suher, owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, told the commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday his recent purchase of the building that houses Diva’s Nightclub and Pleasant Street Car Wash will not be a distraction from getting work on the church completed.
Suher said he purchased the Diva’s building as an investment and has no plans to do any construction or renovations inside.
Rather than serving as a distraction from getting the work done, Suher said, the purchase “confirms his commitment to city.”
Commission Chairman William Rosen said because Wednesday’s meeting took place before June 14, he didn’t feel comfortable revoking the license — though it is within the commission’s power to do so — and instead agreed to take the issue up at next month’s meeting.
Suher was given the June 14 deadline in November 2013, as well as an early January deadline to have a another liquor license he owned put into use at the former Blue Note Guitar building on Center Street.
Suher missed the deadline for the Center Street location and that license was revoked in May.
The city has a limited number of liquor licenses it can offer to businesses. At least four people have expressed interest in purchasing the license that was revoked from Suher in May, according to the commission.
Suher said Wednesday that crews are working “diligently” to have renovation work inside the church done, but admitted it might be the end of the year before that facility can be opened.
Suher said he plans on using the 15,000-square-foot facility as a space for weddings, private functions and other events.
He said he needs more time to finish the church renovation, but was reluctant to give a completion date.
“I don’t want to get painted into a box,” Suher said. “If I knew that, I’d have 20 or 30 shows booked already.”
Because of the building’s architecture, he said, renovations have been complicated. He said it would have been faster, from a construction standpoint, to have knocked the building down and started from scratch.
In November, construction delays and the need to reapply for building permits and changes to building codes were reasons given by Suher for the extra time required to get the church building open.
On Wednesday, Suher cited those reasons again, but said a proposed Oct. 1 deadline still might not leave enough time to have the facility open.
“October first is like tomorrow,” Suher said.
“Other places have been renovated in less time,” Rosen said.
Commission member Elaine Reall said the continued delays and lack of action were making the commission appear ineffectual and wondered if Suher was devoting the needed effort to getting work on the building done.
“We already look kind of silly,” she said. “The license has been out there since 2009 — is this really your top priority?”
Suher insisted work is moving along as quickly as possible and it’s in his own interest to get it finished. “It’s costing me money every day it’s not open,” he said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.