Odell's in June 1992, before it was shut down for the last time

Odell's in June 1992, before it was shut down for the last time (Amy Davis)

A revival of the famed and troubled nightclub Odell's on North Avenue is in the works.

Will Hanna, director of sports marketing firm HMG Sports and Entertainment, says he's entered into contract negotiations with the venue's current owner. Hanna expects negotations to end sometime this summer.

If he's successful, Hanna, a former House of Delegates candidate, intends to sink $2 million into developing the club, which has been closed since 1992.

"The whole intent is to restore some entertainment value and glory to the city and make it a destination spot," Hanna says. "Kind of like how Odell's was in the 80s."

Since its opening in 1976 by Odell Brock, Odell's was hugely popular and is still revered by some as the heart of house and dance music in Baltimore in the 80s. It was also a precursor to the popular Baltimore club venues of the early 90s, and where many of the leading figures of the genre got their start.

"Odell's wasn't just a club," says house diva Ultra Nate, a regular at the club in the 80s and later a performer. "It was a culture and a lifestyle and if you were a part of it then you felt like you were a part of something special. Not many clubs these days try to capture that emotional connection."

But after Brock died in 1985, the club was overwhelmed with problems. It was first shut down in 1987 when new owner Philip A. Murray was arrested and convicted over his role in a major Baltimore heroin ring. And it was later closed for the last time in 1992 by the zoning board over complaints of violence and noise in its vicinity.

Later, Milton Tillman Jr., who bought the club in 1989, was sentenced to 27 months in prison and a $15,000 fine for trying to bribe a member of the Baltimore zoning board. Though Tillman's 19-21 Inc. is still listed as the club's owner in property records, Hanna says the corporation was bought by new owners after it forfeited several years ago. He declined to name the new owners. Tax records still show the corporation as forfeited.

Hanna started looking into the venue last summer, after he moved his company to the city from Atlanta.

He says the city is missing a club that caters to an over-30 crowd, despite clubs like Dubai, Eden's Lounge and E-Villa. 

"I've been to all those venues," he said. "What we're looking at is a more upscale-type venue. Sort of a Los Angeles and New York look."

As incongruous as a luxurious club on North Avenue would look, Hanna is convinced it would complete the neighborhood.

"I believe an upscale venue in Station North will work," he says. "I think it's one of the pieces that's missing out of that district. That totally upscale, red carpet-type venue where there are athletes and people from the music industry. We want it to be more of an experience than just a night out."

Hanna says his Odell's won't just cater to African Americans, like the original, and won't just be a dance club.

Under his plan, the first floor is a multi-purpose nightclub, the second a dining area with a VIP section, and the rooftop would be open for the first time. He intends to get art students involved to paint site-specific murals.

"We want to bring back that 'You'll know if you belong' feeling," Hanna said, referring to Odell's original motto. "But also broaden its audience."

To re-open Odell's Hanna would first have to find a liquor license, as the club's expired years ago, according to the Baltimore Liquor Board. Hanna says he's also in negotiation with venues in East Baltimore that are within the transfer radius. He expects all loose ends will be tied up by June, if not sooner.

Then there's the challenge of living up to the original's legend.

"If someone is re-opening the building as a new entity, that will be interesting and good for the Penn-North corridor, if it's a cool venue," says Ultra Nate. "But if they're planning to take on the ghost and legacy of ODell's, they've got some big shoes to fill."