- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - If it was summer, a younger Sean Pepe and his friends could end up at the Boathouse three times in one month.

“We talk about some of our fondest memories, driving to Norfolk to go to a Boathouse show,” Pepe said.

The warehouse-like Norfolk music venue was considered legendary, offering a stage for the likes of Merle Haggard, Violent Femmes, Tina Turner, Jane’s Addiction, No Doubt, Jay-Z and Slayer.

Hipsters could walk out of a show and say, “I saw them before they got big,” Pepe says.

The Boathouse canceled shows in 2003 after damage from Hurricane Isabel, later forcing the 20-year venue to close for good.

Now, Pepe - one of the people behind Hampton restaurants Barking Dog and El Diablo and Newport News’ Kismet Bistro - will pay homage to the Norfolk icon by opening a venue called Boathouse Live at City Center, Mayor McKinley Price announced on Oct. 3 during his State of the City address.

The venue would be filling a space that has been vacant since 2015, when it was last occupied by Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill. It would also fill one of several vacancies on Mariners Row in City Center.

Price described the future venue as “a dynamic atmosphere for artists and audiences alike.”

Florence Kingston, director of economic development, said the city’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee approved giving Pepe a $150,000 loan through the Newport News Capital Fund Loan Program to launch the venue. The city’s Economic Development Authority was set to ratify that on Oct. 6.

Each dollar of the loan amount must be matched by at least one dollar of private investment, according to city’s website.

“The Peninsula doesn’t have a NorVa-type music venue, and that’s absurd,” Pepe said.

The NorVa is in downtown Norfolk and is a more intimate venue - similar to the Boathouse - that attracts popular and underground acts.

When a new group of investors took over ownership of City Center last year, led by former Mayor Joe Ritchie and Hampton attorney Robert E. Long, they said they wanted to make the area more of an entertainment district. The vision before was to focus on retail.

So far, the only entertainment-oriented business to move in is the Lock-In, an escape room, along Mariner’s Row.

A representative for Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate, which manages property in City Center, could not be reached to say how many vacancies exist.

Pepe’s venue will go on the corner of Mariners Row and Fountain Way. From that intersection to Mariners Row and Merchant’s Walk, five spaces have “Available Space” signs on the front doors. Another six spaces appear completely vacant, unmarked, dark and with no furniture inside. Several businesses have moved out of City Center, including Jos. A. Bank men’s clothing and jeweler Hi-Ho Silver.

The Daily Press moved into City Center in December 2014. In June, Ferguson Enterprises announced it would open a campus at City Center that will be home to about 1,400 employees, more than 400 of them new hires.

Boathouse Live will have the capacity for about 1,100 people, but Pepe and his business partner, Randy Jones, want to add pingpong and pool tables. About 700 to a 1,000 people could probably catch a show there, he said.

He would also experiment with offering lunch and dinner, but the main focus right now is getting the live-music portion off the ground, he said. He doesn’t expect parking to be a problem since the public parking garage appears to have more than enough capacity, he said.

The venue should be done by the end of November, and a band called The Jauntee is scheduled to play there on Dec. 1. Hailing from Boston, the band’s website describes its sound as “Funk/Rock/Jazz/Progressive/Bluegrass/Psychedelic and Ambient.”

Pepe said opening a music venue is outside his comfort zone of restaurants. Pepe, a self-described big music fan, hates to say it, but “this is more of a passion project.”

He and Jones weren’t looking to open a music venue at all, Pepe said. A representative of Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate asked to meet with him about the open space. That snowballed into more meetings, including with Ritchie.

“If you had asked me this three months ago, four months ago, I would have said no way, but somehow it happened,” he said.

___

Information from: Daily Press, https://www.dailypress.com/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide