All that jazz in Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The baby grand is awaiting delivery.

A 1957 Hammond B-3 organ is being restored.

Renovations to the three-story, 9,600-square-foot building that will become the Main Street Jazz Restaurant could begin by the end of this month, said partners Horace Balmer and Sherwin Turner.

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The two Suffolk men, who recently bought the former antique mall building at 136 S. Main St., say their contractor is ready to start work as soon as the Suffolk City Council gives the project the green light.

The council will consider their conditional use permit request-which was unanimously approved by the planning commission last month-at its May 18 meeting.

The bottom floor of the building will house an upscale restaurant with seating for up to 120. That floor will also include a private dining room for 24 and a 16-seat bar, according to plans submitted to the city. The project also calls for an outdoor dining area seating up to 35 people.

The second floor will be Main Street’s entertainment hub, a night club area featuring cabaret and booth seating for 160 to 180 people, a second bar area and a 160-square-foot performance stage.

Looking around the spacious, historic building recently, Balmer and Turner had no problem visualizing the changes needed so the restaurant could open by its September target date.

A wall cutting through the building’s first floor has to come down, opening space for the downstairs dining room, Turner said. The walls and floors of the building’s second floor

have to be soundproofed, a stage built in one corner of the room and a bar constructed in the other. The third floor will be used for office space and dressing rooms for performers.

&uot;We will be the most unique jazz club in Hampton Roads,&uot; said Balmer, who also co-owns a Harlem jazz club.

The club, which will bring in renowned jazz artists on weekends, will be a drawing card for blues and jazz lovers from Hampton Roads, northeastern North Carolina and beyond, he said.

But the entertainment will also thrive between weekends, Turner said. For example, he said, they are planning to have swing dancing to big band music on Monday, open mic nights on Wednesdays, and gospel brunches on Sundays.

Balmer and Turner, longtime friends and jazz buffs living in northern Suffolk, decided to open Main Street after finding few jazz venues in the region.

There was a time such an investment in downtown Suffolk might have been considered risky, the two said

&uot;But the worst thing about a risk is not taking one,&uot; said Balmer.

&uot;Everyone we have spoken with about this is very positive about it,&uot; Turner said. &uot;Honestly, I don’t even feel like it’s much of a risk anymore. I’m confident people will support it.&uot;

They expect the ongoing revitalization of downtown Suffolk – the opening of the Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center, the pending opening of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and several new restaurants and businesses coming to downtown – to continue spurring private investment in downtown.

&uot;It’s going to be bustling down here in another couple of years,&uot; Balmer said. &uot;We are hoping to excite other clubs into coming down here.&uot;