Thursday, May 16, 2002

Blue Wisp keeps site options open


Jazz club renews search for new home

By Larry Nager, lnager@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “We're back in limbo,” Blue Wisp owner Marjean Wisby says. Cincinnati's venerable jazz club is homeless again.

        Just weeks after the Enquirer announced that the Blue Wisp would be moving into 708 Walnut in the heart of downtown's Backstage District, the building's owners, Walnut Partners, say they have signed another tenant for the space.

        “I'm kind of upset. All of a sudden, they pulled the rug from under us,” Ms. Wisby said. She was to have vacated the basement at 19 Garfield Place to make room for the expansion of Foundation Savings & Loan, which occupies the ground floor.

        “I already made plans to move and transferred my liquor license to that (Walnut) address.” But Gerald Robinson, a partner in Walnut Partners, said the deal with the Wisp never was finalized.

        “There were all these loose ends going on,” he said. “There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle that had to all come together, and they never did.”

        One problem, he said, was that a lot of construction would have been required to turn 708 Walnut into a nightclub, including smoke-eating machines, restrooms and a bar.

        “Meanwhile, this other opportunity walks in the door and there's nothing to it. They take the space as it is,” Mr. Robinson said.

        The basement at 708, next door to Jeff Ruby's, was then offered to Ms. Wisby, but she found it unacceptable.

        “I'm not going into that basement,” she says. “I looked at that first because it was cheaper rent (than street level), but it's too small.”

        She says she intends to keep the club downtown somewhere. Cincinnati has offered her a $40,000 grant and $50,000 low-cost small-business loan.

        Longtime supporter and city councilman Jim Tarbell has been helping her find a place. Right now, the search has moved east of Backstage to Eighth Street, between Sycamore and Broadway, in the building that once housed an awning company and, most recently, a Verizon Wireless office.

        The closing of the Blue Wisp, an internationally known night spot that has presented live jazz on Garfield Place since 1989 (it opened in O'Bryonville in 1973 and started its jazz policy in 1977), would be considered a blow to downtown Cincinnati. “Maintaining that tradition is essential,” Mr. Tarbell said.

        “I'm looking at some other places,” says Ms. Wisby. “I'm just kind of laying low and seeing what's gong to happen. It's pretty scary.” She says the club will offer shows at its current site as long as possible.

        “I hope I don't get evicted.”

       



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