First Avenue closes ?? for good?

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The legendary First Avenue nightclub, 701 1st Ave. N., has closed its doors indefinitely in the wake of a bankruptcy filing by founder Allan Fingerhut.

A small, barely noticeable sign posted on the club's door at the corner of 1st Avenue North & 7th Street announced the closing Nov. 2. Another farewell posted on the club's Web site offered thanks to the club's staff and community: "The departing staff wish to thank all of the staff members from the last 30-plus years for their hard work, tears and souls."

The club is expected to reopen under new management and a new name. Acts currently booked at the club will perform at other local venues.

Fingerhut offered brief comments on the closing, blaming the club's building owners. "The offers that were made to me were unbearable on the lease, so I was forced to file for bankruptcy. ... After 35 years, I'm out," he said.

The club's 120 full-time and part-time employees have been laid off.

The building's owners evicted Fingerhut for unpaid rent and taxes. The principal landlord is Byron Frank, who owns 60 percent. Former First Avenue managers Steve McClellan and Jack Meyer, who have claims against Fingerhut for wrongful termination, each own 10 percent. The remaining 20 percent is owned by a trust established by Fingerhut.

Sean Shiff, an attorney representing the building owners, said their goal is to reopen the club as quickly as possible under the management of McClellan and Meyer. The new management team has picked up an application for a new liquor license, said Ken Ziegler, a city license inspector.

To reopen and serve alcohol by mid-December, the new management group needs to submit the application by Monday, Nov. 15 and receive approval from the City Council, Ziegler said.

Said Shiff, "We did everything in our power to keep the old club in -- to keep Allan there," adding that Fingerhut was offered loans and a "below-market lease."

Attorneys representing the owners will continue negotiations with a trustee representing Fingerhut in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Shiff said.

The closing is a blow to many local music fans. First Avenue has long been heralded as the city's premiere music destination and credited with launching the careers of several noted musicians, including Prince.

Fingerhut opened the club April 3, 1970 in a former Greyhound bus depot. It has had a number of names over the years, including The Depot, Uncle Sam's and Sam's.

Dario Anselmo, owner of the Fine Line Music Caf/, 318 1st Ave. N., and president of the Warehouse District Business Association, said First Avenue is not the only Downtown club facing challenges.

"We all love and know First Avenue, and those of us in the music business especially need to see a viable music icon be preserved," Anselmo said. "For too long there has been too many pressures on all of the music clubs. The cost of doing business in our city keeps going up."