Thursday, January 13, 2011

From Health Club to Brew Pub?


The long shot attempt by exuberant former members to revive The Leading Edge--aka Gold's Gym--has already sputtered like an endurance athlete hitting the wall; now a game ending scenario looms with the Zoning Board of Appeals "Special Permit" hearing next month as Amherst Brewing Company, a downtown icon, seeks permission to move into the cavernous University Drive location, a snowball's throw from Umass.

The thriving brew pub opened in Amherst center in 1997 as an anchor tenant in the former First National Bank building, just one of Barry Roberts many successful downtown assets, and they have expanded three times since.

In 1998 founder John Korpita made national news by winning a $3,713 lawsuit for damages brought against an underage patron using a fake ID. Mr. Korpita was also one of only two taverns in town to stay out of the 1999 'Smoking Ban in Bars War' when Amherst lead the way in that public health initiative bitterly opposed by a rowdy gang of barowners.

Gold's Gym opened in 2003, jettisoned the franchise name two years ago in favor of The Leading Edge and then finally expired last October. Interestingly in 2002, a year before they originally opened, the Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a 'Special Permit' request for a restaurant/bar in that location due to neighbors concerns about "noise and crowding."

Original founder and now former owner Peter Earle was intercepted by the Amherst Police on Christmas Day attempting to remove tons of exercise equipment (last second Christmas shopping?)

According to Amherst police narrative:

I spoke with Joanne Delong who said the equipment is leased and can not be removed. Peter Earle and his partner have taken approximately 8 loads. Earle was advised that unless he can provide paperwork stating the items are his, nothing else will be moved. The Penske rental truck was observed with multiple weight stands, and loaded with weights in the truck. The truck was secured overnight. Earle will return in the A.M. and place that equipment back inside until proper documentation is retrieved. Peter Earle was also advised he may face criminal charges if he knowingly removed the property illegally.


video
This clip is actually from the recent January 10 Select Board meeting. Never hurts to have Princess Stephanie as a reference (shown here acting as Liquor Commissioner approving a new ABC stockholder). And these days the ZBA is a tad less cowering to noisy NIMBYs.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I live off of Amity Street near Univ. Drive and received an anonymous "Dear Neighbor" letter in the mail yesterday warning me of Amherst Brewing Company's proposed move and state that if I "don't want a bar/restaurant and yet more late night noise, traffic, crowds, litter, urination, and vandalism that will follow the crowds," then I should make my "voice heard like neighbors did in 2002", when the proposed H20 restaurant/bar was denied a special permit for the Golds/LE space.

The letter urged its recipients to 1) write a letter to the chair of the ZBA stating their opposition on this issue, 2) email the planning department with their concerns, and 3)attend the public hearing to attend and state their opposition, and call for the special permit to be denied.

I personally don't have any issues with ABC's proposal and feel the letter's concerns are overstated (though I'd miss having ABC downtown).

I also have trouble taking this anon. letter seriously. It wasn't signed and the return address label on the envelope had visibly been removed before sending. If the people felt strongly enough to write and send this letter, why then are they afraid to own it?

I would hope this the ZBA hearing on this issue could avoid the theatrics of other recent ZBA hearings, but unfortunately, I doubt it.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah,this sounds pretty much like standard operating procedure from the NIMBY handbook.

Same talking points used against the Gateway Project.

But Amherst has gotten a tiny bit closer to the real world since the previous bar tried to open in 2002, so it will be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I got one of those letters too, but I can really understand why, in this small town, people feel the need to be anonymous.

I DO take the concerns of the letter writer seriously. There is a reason for zoning, a reason why people are concerned about noise, etc. in residential neighborhoods.

It's ironic that you highlight "the party house of the weekend" and then mock people trying to retain the peace, quiet and original character of their neighborhoods.

People need to be able to trust that the zoning of commercial developements, which was a condition of allowing them to be built, will stay the same and not creep up to higher levels of commercial use. If they don't trust that the zoning will stay the same, there will be MORE objections to further commercial developement.

You start with a dentist's office, and a few years later, it may be a bar.

I appreciated being alerted to the situation. I really don't want more night time noise in our area, it's bad enough as it is.

LarryK4 said...

That area has been a commercial zone for a couple generations now.

Remember Hamilton Newell Printing or Bells Pizza, across the street from Newmarket Center?

Anonymous said...

that's across the street and down. The much newer New Market Center isnt zoned for bars and restaurants, thats why ABC would have to get a variance

I dont think this is a good idea either

LarryK4 said...

And let me guess, you live nearby?

Remember the bar/restaurant Chequers? I believe that was right across the street.

Anonymous said...

To all the people who say no:

The bill for the loss in higher commercial taxes will be split evenly between you.

You want your quiet neighborhood, pay for it.

LarryK4 said...

Looks to me like Mr. Korpita runs a tight ship. He has a proven track record concerning professionalism and due diligence.

I don't think he will be allowing a Frat House party mentality under his roof--wherever that roof may be.

Anonymous said...

We also got one of those letters and we TOTALLY agree! And we will write a letter to the ZBA.

RV

Anonymous said...

"The bill for the loss in higher commercial taxes will be split evenly between you.

You want your quiet neighborhood, pay for it."

It's not like this a new business, it would just be relocated. There's also the gym people want to reopen there.

LarryK4 said...

It's not like Dr. Kate was a "new business" relocating to a Professional Research Park either.

And the NIMBYs did not have much luck with the ZBA two weeks ago torpedoing THAT, now did they?

But somebody will come to Amherst to rent her old location, just as Mr. Roberts--the savviest businessman in town--will quickly figure out how to bring in a NEW business or two to replace ABC when they move.

"The gym people want to reopen?" Yeah, and people also want to lose 20 pounds and 20 years off their body by next week. Not likely to happen.

Dale said...

Cut the crap you have Rafters and The Hanger right across the street. If there ever was an element for noisey crowds that would be it. I agree ABC runs a much more controlled enviroment. I suggest you get the "For Sale" signs up now and move. You can go move deep in the woods of Goshen and be content that nothing will built that will disrupt your tranquility. There's not a business known to mankind that can be built in Amherst because nobody wants it near them. ABC over time I suspect will bring much more revenue to the town than Golds ever would have.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like someone who lives far away from the situation there, Dale.
These people bought their houses when the zoning was one way, and now people want to change it. Who was there first?
Maybe 2 bars is enough for that area.
Maybe there was a good reason for the original zoning.
Maybe it's fair to ask to stick to the originally agreed on zoning.

Ed said...

Larry -- do some checking, but the Laundry Club (right next door) still has some sort of food license (I saw the health inspector in there a while back) and I believe it once had an alcohol/bar license. (The place is built in the bar/laundry style that was popular in the late '80s, go drink while doing laundry, there was one in Portland, ME.)

There were two serious mistakes in zoning -- first in not having a corridor between UMass and *somewhere* -- at some point over the past 40 years someone ought to have had the courage to realize that if you are going to want the student money, you are going to also have bars, and you really can't have "flyover" territory in the middle.

The second mistake was letting that street go in directly behind a commercial area. No buffer, nothing -- what idiot approved that? And what idiots bought houses behind what was then an active grocery store (with big trucks right outside their windows) and thought they were in some pristine rural neighborhood?

Ed said...

Actually, the bigger mistake was the parking lot mess fester and forcing Louis's grocery store to move out of downtown where a grocery store would be nice. (It was where the CVS is -- and CVS could afford the lawyers to win the parking lot issue.)

Louis Fine Foods - which built Newmarket Center went under, became Victory and when Shop & Save bought Victory, was closed and now there are no supermarkets in Amherst. Don't blame the students for this one, blame your own townie leaders....

The old Lewis Fine Foods store was then divided by a politically connected (Housing Authority Board) contractor/developer with the southern half becoming the dentist/etc offices and the north Gold's Gym.

That is how we got here. And I fear that ABC may well be making the mistake that Louis did, although perhaps not as it was the mortgage on the whole development that did him in.

LarryK4 said...

Back in the day, contractor Dave Keenan had a fair amount of pull (not any more obviously.)

Ed said...

One other thing -- do you have any idea how much it sucks to be over the age of 25 and in Amherst?

All bars are not identical, nor do they have the same type of persons going to them. Graduate Students go to ABC, as do junior UM administrators -- and we want a place that is civilized -- where we can carry on conversations more detailed than the most basic of the "hookup culture", where our feet don't stick to the floor and where we don't have the urge to wear full oilgear to protect us from beer, vomit and whatnot.

A place where I could nonchalantly bring in a birthday cake for a friend's 23rd birthday and we convince a very depressed young lady that 23 wasn't her death sentence -- they got their money in drinks that night and kinda figured they would -- although I don't know how many people would have even tried to stop me, I do know how many would have been effective in doing so that night...

Amherst has two demographic groups -- the college kids who arrived in the '70s and never left, and the 18-22 year old current college kids. There really is no social venue for those in the middle, particularly if you are single and don't have family in town, and that is the root of a lot of Amherst's problems.

If all you have are drunken undergrads and crabby graybeards complaining about them, all of the things that make a town vibrant start to evaporate. You start having police officers commuting from Holyoke (wait, you already do), you start having your commercial space drifting first to Hadley and then across the river (wait, it has) and then your young professionals and junior faculty don't mind commuting because there isn't anything in Amherst for them anyway (wait, that made Belchertown one of the fastest growing towns in Massachusetts).

Ed said...

2 of 2

I suspect that a lot of ABC patrons were quietly cheering when John Korpita sued that kid, as much as I will defend them as fellow students in the town/gown war, I never really was into drinking & puking and definitely am not into it now and really don't want to be around it.

And might I suggest that Stephanie and the rest invite a few friends from out-of-town for cover (so they aren't personally noticed) and go into ABC next week when UMass is in session and see what is there and what is not.

My gut feeling is that Korpita realizes that his patrons (many of whom are female) really don't want to deal with the North Pleasant Street bar/cop scene and drunken yahoos and having your car pinned in by metal police barricades because you didn't know that just because there was a meter and marked space in front of Antonios, you ought not park there...

I suspect he knows that the patrons want a parking lot that visiting friends can find, (or follow you from campus and park next to you), a no-hassle-from-anyone walk in and out of the bar, and the ability to drive home (legally under the limit) without having to worry about being hassled by the cops.

A civilized place where if you do imbibed too much (even if still under the limit), you can leave your car overnight, get a ride home with friends or on the PVTA, get to work somehow else the next morning and come back and pick up your car the following evening. The civilized way of doing this, when waitstaff can agree that you ought not drive (even if you could) and let you leave the car there for a day (which can't happen downtown).

My point to all the critics is that I really doubt that the ABC would ever be the problems the neighbors fear because it markets itself on not being that -- they make their money on not having that stuff happening. People like me pay MORE for drinks because we don't want to deal with all the stuff happening across the street.

And bright blue lights flashing in your face sorta ruins the atmosphere that ABC seeks to have with its patio. ABC is a place where you sip a drink and converse with friends, not drink yourself half blind and 'hook up' with random equally-drunk strangers....

LarryK4 said...

And their fresh beer is pretty darn good too.

Dale said...

Actually I live right in what is to become a area soon to be extensivly developed and entertains the prospects of seeing quite a bit of change. I guess my question to you is what type of businesses is Amherst looking for and where are we going to put them. That area is already developed and we would not be building on any prestine land. I hate to say it but we need to accept some changes, or would it be easier for the town to have a business that wants to grow move to the next town over to get away from Amherst politics as so many have done in the past. As far as we were here first it's not about who was there first it's about what is best for the town as whole.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you are so funny. You have obviously never been to the UPSTAIRS of ABC! It's a zoo bar like all the rest. Loud music, pool tables, darts, and college students drinking thenselves half blind and 'hooking up' with random equally-drunk strangers....
And with all that extra space and all the real money being in alcohol sales, not food, there will surely be plenty of that in the new location.

Anonymous said...

Louis Foods moved because it couldn't compete with Superstop & Shop with the paltry size storr they had uptown. No one bought the mountains of food they by at S $ S at Louis. It was becoming the stop in for a loaf of bread store. It wasn't about more parking. It was about more customers.

Ed said...

You have obviously never been to the UPSTAIRS of ABC! Yes, I have -- had an interesting conversation with an alum about what it was like to work in a DA's office in Jersey.

Hate to tell you, but folk sometimes are drunk at the VFW as well...

Anonymous said...

If the patrons of the ABC are even half as drunk as the basement dwellers of the Amherst VFW, Boy are we in allot of trouble! That place has the poster children for "AA" written all over it LOL!!!!

Ed said...

And the VFW is on the same street, just how many hundred feet uphill?

If that is not destroying the neighborhood (and yes, I have heard the stories...) then why would ABC?

Like with the Maria G Fan Club, I just ask people to cite facts -- and I cite the fact that both the VFW and Newmarket Center are on Amnity Street, which isn't a very long street as streets in Amherst go....

Anonymous said...

VFW is not on Amity Ed

Anonymous said...

VFW is not on Amity Ed
96 Amity.....

Anonymous said...

that would be the American Legion Post 148. The VFW, the place with the bar downstairs and the big parking lot, is next to the train tracks.

Anonymous said...

Get your facts straight, Ed.

Anonymous said...

so...does anyone know what happened at the Open House that the owner of ABC had last night at the empty gym space?

Kelly said...

January 14, 2011 6:45 AM
Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I got one of those letters too, but I can really understand why, in this small town, people feel the need to be anonymous."

You can't make this stuff up!

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, and to think four years ago I was hesitant to start this blog because I thought there would not be enough material for frequent enough posts.

Now I don't have enough bandwidth (or time) to cover it all.

Only in Amherst.