Plans For New Downtown Nightclub In The Works


Architect's rendering of the exterior and logo of the proposed Spoke Live nightclub in downtown Amherst. Photo:

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Zoning Board Of Appeals, April 13, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Steve Judge (Chair), Dillon Maxfield, and associate members Sarah Marshall, Vincent O’Connor, and David Sloviter

Staff: Christine Brestrup (Planning Director), Pam Field Sadler (Assistant), and Rob Watchilla (newly appointed Planner), Rob Morra (Building Inspector)

Chair Steve Judge introduced Rob Watchilla, who was recently appointed to the Planning Department. He was previously the head planner in Ware. Watchilla will be the staff liaison from the Planning Department to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) going forward.

Nightclub Planned For Expanded Spoke Venue 
Chad O’Rourke impressed the ZBA with his bar management expertise and his well thought out plans to create Spoke Live, a nightclub at 1-11 Pray Street. This second Spoke venue will change the use of the three-space commercial building previously occupied by Olde Town Tavern, Minuteman Cleaners, and a Univer Suds laundromat. The proposed nightclub will accommodate 534 occupants in the 2670 square foot space, more than the 465 bar patron spaces that were lost during the COVID epidemic. The original Spoke bar received a permit from the building inspector during the pandemic under Zoning Bylaw Article14 to expand and offer some music. Article 14 allowed expedited permitting and expansion of allowed businesses during the pandemic. The success of the small nightclub at the East Pleasant Street building led to O’Rourke wanting to open a larger venue at the vacant building to the rear. Because of business closure during COVID, few places exist where students can go for amusement in downtown Amherst, so board members considered this a great addition to the downtown.

Recent exterior view of 1-11 Pray Street, the location of the proposed Spoke Live nightclub. Photo: Google Maps

The sixty-year-old building is currently undergoing total renovation, mostly to comply with the town’s zoning bylaw regulation that noise levels be less than 70 decibels at the property lines, which, in this case, are very close to the structure itself. The east facade abuts the West Cemetery while the south facade abuts the new Archipelago mixed-use building under construction at 11 East Pleasant Street. A dumpster and two storage sheds are also on the south side. The north side has three exit doors facing 11 parking spaces. The main entrance is on the west façade facing East Pleasant Street. Twelve down-cast LED cam lights are under the canopy to light the exterior. The Spoke and The Spoke Live have a total of 33 parking spaces, although none are required. There is also a nearby bus stop.

According to plans, there will be no chairs. All patrons will be standing. O’Rourke said that chairs are considered hazardous in a nightclub. They can be tossed and thrown, or cause trips and falls. The venue will employ at least eight bartenders and two or three doormen who will be connected by phone and will monitor I.D. cards and patron behavior in the outside queue and inside the club, as well as counting the number of patrons entering and exiting at each door to avoid over-crowding. There will be metal detectors at the doors. The local bartenders at downtown bars are in communication with each other about unruly patrons, so that they can’t go from bar to bar. All of O’Rourke’s employees have been professionally trained and have the required certifications.

Interestingly, O’Rourke said that the wands used to scan patrons at The Spoke have been very successful in finding “nips” that patrons are trying to sneak into the bar, and when there has been a plumbing problem at The Spoke, the cause has been found to be nips flushed down the toilet. He plans to use the same scanning wands at this building.

Three gas furnaces heat the building while the air circulation system surpasses code at six total exchanges per hour although only four are required. ZBA member Vincent O’Connor questioned how this aspect compared with similar venues in town. O’Rourke did not know this information, but sound abatement is the most important issue for the board. All the walls are considered sound-proof as are the proposed solid core metal doors. The windows are the biggest source of sound escaping, so they will be replaced with ½ inch tempered glass with tinted windows (tinting serves to mitigate sound).

While the inside noise level for bars is usually about 100 dB, the walls and windows cut the sound level to 60 dB. If this turns out not to be adequate, plexiglass can be applied to the window interior for further sound abatement. O’Rourke intends that the music will be provided by a single deejay, rather than live band music. O’Connor was concerned about loud noise inside the club damaging patrons’ hearing, and asked if there are any standards regarding interior noise levels, but was informed that only the exterior noise level at the lot line is regulated by the bylaw.

Sarah Marshall expressed concern about noise from pedestrians and patrons congregating outside between the two bars. Judge asked, “What is the threshold for what is called a problem and how will it be handled?” He asked that O’Rourke propose enforceable conditions for the permit to the board rather than having the ZBA create the conditions, because the board does not understand how to manage this type of business as well as he does and therefore might impose unrealistic conditions.

There doesn’t seem to be a kitchen or food preparation area on the floor plan. No mention of the availability of food or a menu was discussed at this meeting. The venue will be closed Monday through Wednesday and when the colleges and university are not in session.

The hearing was continued to May 11 at 6:00 pm for O’Rourke to come forth with answers to the questions raised by the board at this meeting, such as the exact dimensions of interior features and the number of stalls in each bathroom, indoor noise level, and management of patrons waiting outside the venue.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.