Church buys closed Warren bar



Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – An area pastor is hoping to turn a long-troubled tavern into a house of worship.

Pastor Doug Garasic said Friday that The Movement church recently purchased the former Sunset Lounge at the corner of Elm Road and East Market Street S.E.

Now based at the Eastwood Mall in Niles, he said plans are to open the second site on Oct. 27, with worship services to be held at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Sundays starting that day.

Garasic said the building needs to be renovated and remodeled before opening.

”This will be the second site we are adding for The Movement closer to downtown Warren,” he said, noting the Eastwood Mall site will remain open.

Garasic said The Movement started two years ago in Vienna and then moved to Eastwood Mall. The Warren location will be known as the Warren Campus.

The Sunset Lounge has been closed since early January, when a 25-year-old Warren man was shot and killed there during a New Year’s celebration.

Building owner and liquor permit holder Joe Sankey Jr. voluntarily closed the bar a few days later as part of an agreement with the city, which had been trying to have the bar’s liquor license renewal blocked. The agreement also held off an effort by the city from seeking a nuisance action against the bar.

Since that time, there had been talk that a Cleveland-area restaurateur was interested in the location.

In April, Margaret Fernandez filed documents with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office incorporating Rodrigo’s Mexican Bar and Grill at the 480 E. Market St. address.

At the time, an attorney for Sankey said no deal was in place to sell to Fernandez and that there had been more than one inquiry into the building.

In March, a civil racketeering lawsuit was filed against Sankey; LaShawn Ziegler, who operated the bar; Robert Cregar, a downtown businessman; and several Jane and John Does by attorney Dick Goodman on behalf of Sunrise Inn restaurant owner Ken Haidaris.

The lawsuit alleges the group conspired to run the Sunrise Inn, which sits across Elm Road. Defense attorneys have called the lawsuit preposterous.

Goodman said he will file dismissal papers for ”only one of the branches” in the lawsuit once he receives a copy of the deed transfer. What would be dismissed is the request prohibiting Blue Magoo’s Ventures LLC – Sankey’s company that held the permit – from reopening the Sunset Lounge at the same location.

”That is the trigger mechanism for us, although it does not impact the remaining civil allegations,” Goodman said.

While that case remains open and although the building is changing hands, the city continues to challenge the Ohio Division of Liquor Control’s decision to renew the liquor permit that was being used at the bar. A hearing in the matter was supposed to happen Wednesday, but it’s been postponed.

The city plans to offer evidence of police calls and of a shooting death at the bar, Warren Law Director Gregory V. Hicks has said. That evidence was not provided at a hearing held in February.

Garasic said he was aware of the controversy and a death that had occurred at the location, made evident by the message placed outside the building on Friday, stating: ”Sold. Thank God Change is Coming.”

”This is an ideal location for us and to reach those in the city,” he said. “We are bringing new hope and life to a place that was known for a tragedy.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin called the church a ”welcome addition” to the downtown. ”From all that I know about some of their outreach programs, not only for individuals, but groups as well, we look forward to them being a member of our community,” Franklin said.

As of late Friday, the sale had not been recorded on the county auditor’s website.

Tribune Chronicle Metro Editor Jim Wyko contributed to this report.