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Northampton sues Suher demanding license be returned

NORTHAMPTON — The battle between the city and businessman Eric Suher over his so-called “pocket” liquor license is heading to court.

In papers filed in Hampshire Superior Court Thursday, the city and its License Commission are seeking a preliminary injunction against Suher to compel him to surrender the license for the former Blue Note Guitars property at 26-28 Center St. downtown.

That license was canceled by the commission May 7, 2014 — more than five years after it was issued in February 2009.

According to the suit, Suher was notified in writing in a letter dated June 10 that he had until 4:30 p.m. June 13 to deliver the license to the mayor’s office or face the lawsuit being filed.

Letters were also sent May 8 and May 29, according to the suit.

A message left with staff at Suher’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned and attempts to reach him via cell phone were unsuccessful.

Also, efforts to reach Suher at home were unsuccessful.

According to the six-page suit, on at least five occasions between March 7, 2012, and May 7, Suher, owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group and city properties, appeared before the License Commission to address concerns that the license was not being used. The suit names both Suher and his company, identified as 26-28 Center St. LLC.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission defines a pocket license as one that’s held but not used, and therefore can be modified or revoked.

In a memo sent to the commission last year, City Solicitor Alan Seewald said there was a “substantial basis” to revoke the license because it hadn’t been used in a reasonable amount of time.

In the same memo, Seewald said the license was “without question” a pocket license.

The city only has a limited number of licenses it can offer to businesses.

A message left for Seewald with staff at his Amherst office was not immediately returned Friday.

According to the suit, at License Commission meetings on Oct. 3, 2012, and June 5 and Nov. 6, 2013, Suher “gave assurances” that the building would be open for business and the license put into use.

In March, Suher told the commission the Center Street renovations would be complete and the license put into use by April.

According to the suit, Suher did not appeal the cancellation of the license and was notified in writing twice that he needed to surrender it to the commission.

ABCC spokesman Jon Carlisle said Friday he wasn’t sure if the Northampton License Commission needed to take physical possession of the license. But he said that once cancelled or otherwise made invalid, a liquor license cannot be posted in a business.

According to state law, however, the licensing authority is “entitled upon demand to the immediate possession” of a liquor license after its “expiration, suspension, revocation, cancellation or forfeiture.”

The suit seeks surrender of the license and court costs and fees.

Meanwhile, the fate of another liquor license held by Suher is in question because it, too, has not been put into use since it was issued, despite assurances it would be.

In November 2013, Suher was given a “firm deadline” of June 14 by the License Commission to put the license for the former Baptist Church on Main Street into use.

At a hearing before the commission June 4, Suher said it might be the end of the year before renovations inside the proposed 15,000-square-foot entertainment facility are finished.

The License Commission took no action on revoking that liquor license, instead putting the matter over until July, when it will be taken up and a new fall or early-winter deadline may be set, members said at the time.

License Commission Chairman William Rosen said because the commission’s last monthly meeting took place before the June 14 deadline, he didn’t feel comfortable revoking that license, though it is within the commission’s power to do so.

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

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