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A 'good' future for former club?

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 29. 2016 9:33PM
The city has bought the old Club Liquid building on Amherst Street in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The city bought the former Club Liquid dance club on Amherst Street with plans to find a partner to ensure “something good happens there,” a city official said Friday.

One potential suitor already is stepping forward, interested in creating a venue for artists.

“We think it could be a pretty cool music hall,” said Manchester resident Matthew Wilhelm, tour manager for the Boston band Dispatch.

The city paid $412,500 for the one-time movie theater and nightclub at 23 Amherst St., which sits next to the circuit court building and within a block of Elm Street.

The Manchester Development Corporation, the city’s economic development arm, is “land banking” the nearly 10,000-square-foot building to “make sure what happens at an important point of the city is in the best overall interests of the city,” said William Craig, director of the Manchester Economic Development Office.

In 2001, Manchester officials temporarily closed the club because of crowding they deemed life-threatening and for other safety code violations. A fire that same year also temporarily shuttered the club, which also came under scrutiny for patrons getting arrested after leaving. The club finally closed permanently several years later.

The MDC will give the public a chance to pitch ideas to rejuvenate the vacant property by submitting proposals. The MDC has bought and held property before, including a parcel at the corner of Granite and Second street where Giorgio’s Ristorante is now under construction.

The next step for the MDC is “finding a partner to help us renovate and then hopefully to operate it,” Craig said. “We haven’t decided on a use but are open to some kind of creative use to improve the downtown.”

The city bought the property from club owner Timothy Gage, who faces 19 felony tax reporting and two theft charges for allegedly failing to turn over to the state $91,000 in rooms and meals tax proceeds from a bar he owned, TJ’s Sports Bar and Grill, on Central Street, according to a state prosecutor.

“At this point, he hasn’t been charged with anything related to Club Liquid,” said Patrick Queenan of the state attorney general’s office.

The first page of the purchase and sales agreement listed Timothy Gage as the seller, but the document later listed the sellers as Timothy Gage and his mother, Pauline Gage. Both signed the purchase and sales agreement.

An online database of Manchester properties, however, only listed Pauline Gage as the property owner.

Manchester attorney Ashley Scott, who represented the seller, didn’t return a phone message Friday.

Robert Wood, who is renovating 28 Amherst St. for a tattoo shop across the street from the former club, said drawing people to the area will help business “immensely.”

A music venue, for instance, would bring more people to eat in area restaurants and “shop and make purchases downtown,” said Wood, who’s opening up Bulletproof Tiger Tattoo with partner Alexander Benoit, both Manchester residents.

Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of the Palace Theatre a block away on Hanover Street, has been advising city officials about the shuttered club building.

“I’m downtown every day and the empty buildings hurt us,” he said.

Ramsey thinks a multi-use building big enough to handle 300 to 350 people would work.

“You could have a wedding. You could have a concert or a small theater show,” Ramsey said.

He and Wilhelm estimated it would cost between $500,000 and $1 million to renovate.

Wilhelm last November won $5,000 in the 2015 New Hampshire Social Venture Innovation Challenge at the University of New Hampshire for his idea to create Old Sol Music Hall, a not-for-profit concert venue and community center in downtown Manchester.

“Yes, we’ll use the $5,000 award in the coming months to further explore the feasibility of renovating the 23 Amherst St. building and starting a not-for-profit concert venue and community center,” Wilhelm said in a follow-up email.

“We’ve got some people that are interested in putting some money into it,” he said.

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