It’s hard to imagine Fort Wayne without Piere’s Entertainment Center.
That doesn’t mean that some local residents haven’t inclined their imaginations in that direction.
Nevertheless, it could be argued that Piere’s is as much a part of Fort Wayne’s identity as Headwaters Park, Johnny Appleseed and defensiveness about the pronunciation of Harry Baals.
After a brief stint as The Hub Entertainment Center under the aegis of out-of-town owners, Piere’s is set to return.
The new general manager, Nate Mertz, said the new local owner wishes to remain anonymous.
In March, the Hub was condemned by the Allen County Building, Unsafe Structures, and Minimum Housing Department for unspecified violations.
Mertz said those issues were minor and have been addressed. Everything has since been brought up to code, he said.
The club has deteriorated since its heyday, Mertz admitted.
“It used to be the crown jewel of the Midwest,” he said. “(The deterioration) didn’t happen overnight. There are definitely some remodel issues. We want to learn from the past and some of the mistakes that were made. But I don’t want to besmirch anybody.”
Mertz said Piere’s, which has always been composed of five diverse clubs under one roof, will be renovated in stages.
First up is the Phoenix dance club.
“The floors in there were just atrocious,” Mertz said, “so we’re getting new flooring down and we’re painting those walls.”
Luckily for the current owner, Mertz said, some brand-new equipment was purchased after a Marketplace of Canterbury fire in 2013.
“We went in there and fired up the lights and sound,” he said. “I already knew it was going to be neat. But sitting in there, I was like, “Wow, this is really impressive. This is a nice, nice dance club.'”
Mertz said the nuts and bolts of the club are still sound.
“The whole place just needs some tender loving care,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
At its zenith, Piere’s was regularly cited on lists of the top clubs in the nation and the world. It cannily showcased acts from radio’s Active Rock format and sold more tickets to those shows than did similar clubs in Chicago and Cleveland.
Thanks to expansive advertising and marketing efforts, Piere’s drew customers from a sizeable geographical area.
Credit for all that success was entirely attributable to original owner Stan Liddell, who opened the club in the mid-1980s and died in 2013.
“I worked for a number of clubs that tried to knock Stan off,” Mertz said. “And we never could. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.”
Liddell left a high bar to clear, Mertz said, but they know what they’re shooting for.
Mertz said owners discussed renovating the entire club all at once, but opted for a more gradual approach.
After the dance club is finished and reopened, he said, they’ll start working immediately on the main room where national acts once performed.
There is no timetable for the completion of any of these projects, Mertz said.
“We’re going to do our best not to rush anything,” he said. “The Phoenix should be open by the end of the month.”
Customer safety will be of paramount importance in the resurrected Piere’s, Mertz said. The original Piere’s had a reputation as a place that could be rough at times, although Mertz said the reputation far exceeded the reality.
“Part of the work is going to be letting the community know exactly what we’re all about,” he said. “The key to that is safety. I want people to know that they’re going to be safe when they go out there. That means that we will have a well-trained security force and off-duty police officers on the premises.”
Mertz said they’re anxious to bring rock and roll back to the main room.
“That main room is iconic,” he said. “I talk to people from out of town and they’re like, ‘I get hit up every day by bands and their managers wanting to know “Whatever happened to Piere’s?”‘ It used to be a very big deal for bands to play there.”
But Mertz thinks that Piere’s will able to offer more diverse programming than it could 10 or 15 years ago because the music industry and local listeners’ tastes have changed so much in that time.
“I think there are a lot more people out there today who appreciate a lot wider spectrum of music genres,” he said.