Launchpad owner struggles to help his business to its feet
By Marisa Demarco
Operator of the Launchpad, Joe Anderson, is angry. "It's agitating—watching everything I've built over the last 20 years fall apart on me."
And to show his enmity, he's having T-shirts made with “ Launchpad-brand Linseed Oil” displayed on the front and a warning label on the back. Profits from the shirts will go to his employees, many of whom have been out of work since Thursday, Feb. 28—the day a fire next door shut the night club down.
The building his business was in suffered some damage after linseed oil-soaked rags caused a fire that destroyed the Golden West Saloon. Even more frustrating is the permitting process he's had to go through to get his business back up and running.
He won't name a reopening date, because every time he's tried to set one, it's crumbled. "We just keep moving things. We move them again and again, and cancel more show dates, anger more people." El Rey, the Golden West's other neighbor, reopened on March 22. Both buildings are owned by Kathy Zimmer and her family.
PNM turned off the gas and electric to the area on the day of the fire. That's for safety's sake, says Susan Sponar, PNM spokesperson. "When there's any kind of damage, what has to happen—and we're required to do this—the building has to come up to the codes that are required by the state and local authorities before we can restore service."
It’s like starting a new company or opening a new business or actually opening a new building.
Launchpad owner Joe Anderson
Anderson spent between $6,000 and $8,000 upgrading the electrical and gas service to the building. Then he applied for a permit to begin work on the six feet of wall damaged by the fire. Launchpad shared a wall with the Golden West. "That set off all kinds of things," Anderson says.
He's being asked to install a sprinkler system, the cost of which will likely hit in the the five-digit range. Anderson's received higher estimates than he anticipated, though he's hesitant to disclose the numbers as he's still in the bidding process.
Melissa Romero, spokesperson for the Albuquerque Fire Department, says buildings that are 5,000 square feet or more are required to have sprinklers. El Rey already has sprinklers, Romero says. Anderson’s been told that the square-footage of the Launchpad space was somehow overlooked for the last 17 years and grandfathered in to previous permits. "It's like starting a new company or opening a new business or actually opening a new building," Anderson says. He wasn't sure he would be able to afford it. "My fear was that my landlords would put all this money into it, and then all of a sudden my rent would double. Then I wouldn't be able to operate anyway."
Harry Dempsey, assistant building and safety manager for the Building and Safety Division, says El Rey didn't have to undergo any serious re-permitting. "They didn't have anything to do," he says. "They had some cleanup from smoke, but that's all." Deborah Nason, spokesperson for the Planning Department, says El Rey applied for and was granted a permit to do electrical work on March 3.
Anderson was considering moving his business and avoiding the expense. But his landlords, Pat and Mike Goodwin, have assured Anderson they want Launchpad to open back up, that the business is too important to the city and to the music scene. "If we have to wait another month to begin building the wall, it's going to end up pushing us back to late summer to open. I would maybe consider bailing at that point. This has already done so much damage," Anderson says.
There was concern, Anderson says, on the Fire Department's part for the workers that would be building the wall because they might have to come into contact with a dangerous and still rubble-filled Golden West. When contacted for comment, Zimmer did not return Alibi phone calls.
Romero, spokesperson for the Fire Department, says the department asked Zimmer to flag off the southern wall of the Golden West because of loose brick at the top of the fire-damaged wall but had no timeline requiring further cleanup. "We really don't have jurisdiction to make her clean it up in a certain amount of time," Romero says.
The last Anderson heard, the builders would be able to get started on the wall Wednesday, April 23, though he said he wasn't getting his hopes up. "I've been told the city's going to make it as difficult as possible for me to reopen, so they're going to try to run us through everything they can," Anderson says.
Anderson battled Mayor Martin Chavez over the city’s 2005 effort to put a stop to all-ages shows in certain venues that also served alcohol. "No one will give you a straight-up answer," Anderson says. "You can't go to someone and ask, why is this happening? why can't I open? And why can't we do this gradually?"
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