Following last week's announcement that Downtown Event Center—the third attempt in four years to establish a successful music venue at 14 W. Martin St. in Raleigh—had closed its doors, the space's landlord says his company will attempt to start its own music club. Donald Bender, who began managing both the three-floor space on Martin Street and Five Star Restaurant in 2005, attributes the space's past failures to a lack of effort by each club's respective management. He wants to break that pattern.
"I've been in business for 41 years," says Bender, a longtime Raleigh resident, "and, knock on wood, I've never failed."
Bender acquired the lease for the space in 2005 after his son, Chris, decided to turn his attention away from what was then called Martin Street Music Hall for North Hills' Restaurant Savannah, which has since closed. Bender sublet the space to Rob Farris, a former Martin Street sound engineer. Farris opened the club Feb. 17, 2006, as Raleigh Music Hall but closed it less than a year later due to, as The News & Observer reported, a "bad lease situation."
Charles Norwood, a former booking agent and manager at Raleigh Music Hall, opened the club as Downtown Event Center in April 2007, "to function as a convention center microcosm ... more like music-plus." Last week, Norwood would only say there were "a couple of things that have to be worked out before I know what's going on." He wouldn't confirm or deny if the club was closing, and he hasn't responded to repeated inquiries since. But Bender says Norwood missed several months of rent and utility bills and hadn't worked to keep the club clean. He hopes to continue with Norwood's format of mixing live-music events and private functions in the third-floor space, though he also wants to make the club more conducive to music and welcoming to bands.
"Like I told the guys before, I hate to be a loser, and I like to be proud in what I do," says Bender. "And I wasn't proud with what we were doing."
Alibi Bar occupies the basement level of the space, and Bender compliments its environment and the improvements its owner, Danny Pacitti, has made, such as hanging local art on the walls. He has a similar plan for Martin Street Pizza, currently under construction on the second level and due to open by the end of the month. When the club reopens upstairs later this year, Bender—who says he's organizing a team to manage the venue upstairs, drawn largely from people he's worked with in the past—hopes for something as appealing: "I don't like to attach my name to something that's not quality."