Towson leaders and owners of the Recher Theatre met Thursday, Feb. 14 to discuss some of the early concerns stemming from the venue's planned change to a nightclub later this spring.
But while the plans for Torrent Nightclub and the business reputation of owners Brian and Scott Recher have helped some accept the project, Councilman David Marks and Greater Towson Council of Community Association President Paul Hartman have chosen to take a wait-and-see approach.
"I think the meeting helped," said Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson. After the plans for a renovated nightclub in the concert venue space became public, Marks raised concerns about the lack of details available and the ever-present security and safety concerns in downtown Towson.
"There's still a lot of apprehension in the community about public safety in the downtown core," Marks said. "Right now, we're going to hope for the best and keep pushing for more police officers in the downtown area."
The Recher Theatre's transformation into Torrent Nightclub was first reported last week. Brian Recher said sweeping renovations to the theater space, bar and bathrooms would be part of his family's efforts to bring a "showpiece" dance venue to Towson.
According to plans, the space will include a dance floor and a new bar. The stage will be replaced by a 45-seat VIP area and a DJ booth.
The county Liquor Board approved plans for the first part of the transformation — which included renovating a space previously used to house bands into the modern Torrent Lounge — last November, just moments after the board voted not to punish the club for its role in downtown disturbance earlier that year.
On the night of Sept. 22, a gathering of hundreds of patrons who couldn't get into a fraternity party at the Recher became unruly, leading to seven arrests for unruly conduct. In a separate incident that night, which police have said is not connected to the disturbance outside Recher, a 20-year-old man was shot while walking to the Towson Town Center parking garage.
While no one at Thursday's meeting held the Recher Theatre responsible for that incident — in fact, many came to the business' defense — Marks and Hartman said the community's last experience a dozen years ago with a Towson nightclub proved difficult.
In the early 2000s, Generation Xtremes Under 21 Dance Club on York Road emptied hundreds of young people into Towson's streets at closing time and residents complained about the resulting disturbances each weekend.
But Generation Xtremes was not locally owned and did not have to answer to the Liquor Board, Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford said.
"We're hopeful that the Recher family can continue to be diligent about running a good business as they have been, and not increase disturbances outside the club," Hartman said.
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Brian Recher said changing the focus of the Recher Theatre site was necessitated by a struggling music industry and the proliferation of larger competing venues in the Baltimore area.
"There's just so much competition for us," he said. "If we don't change now, we'd just be wasting money by not doing anything."
Recher hopes the transformation will make his business competitive among other bars in Towson.
"The kids are gravitating toward the DJs," Recher said. He said they've had DJs at the Rec Room, the theater's companion bar and restaurant, for 13 years. Additionally, several other Towson bars, including Charles Village Pub and 7West Bistro, regularly host DJs at night.
The nightclub concept is less volatile than relying on promoters and bidding on shows that could lose money, Recher said.
"There's always going to be people that are concerned, which is fine," Recher said. "When we opened back in '96 as a billiard room, people were up in arms about that, too, and since then we've taken over 10 storefronts, so I guess we haven't been that bad for Towson."
"We've been in the community. Our family has been in the community since 1959 doing business at that same location," Recher said. The family purchased and operated the old Towson theater beginning in 1959. "I hope we've proven to the community that we're here to stay, and we're not going to do anything that makes the community look bad."