By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
The old gal can’t keep up with those late nights the way she once could, which is the situation the ClaZel now finds itself in.
As someone who considers himself the beloved venue’s caretaker as much as its owner, Ammar Mufleh decided late last year that the late night dance parties had to stop.
The late night dance club that was in the venue on weekends ended last December. The venue now concentrates on special events – wedding receptions, corporate meetings, fundraisers, and concerts.
“College students put a little more wear and tear on a facility,” Mufleh said. “I take a lot of pride in the time, talent, and treasure it took to rebuild and renovate it.”
It wasn’t only the theater that was strained. “I have a very talented staff,” he said, and their energies would be sapped on Friday nights when at 2:30 a.m. they’d have to scrub, do some repairs, and transform the space into the setting for a wedding reception on Saturday. After the reception, the staff would be back at it, transforming the ClaZel again into dance club for that night.
The new focus will be “less taxing on the staff,” Mufleh said.
“I’m excited to focus on a demographic that really appreciates the allure, the aesthetic the history of the theater,” he said.
Mufleh, who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs in the Toledo area, can count himself in that demographic. As a student at the University of Toledo, he recalls driving down to Bowling Green to see movies at the ClaZel. He admired the structure then, even if, as he recalls, he had to pick his seat to avoid the plaster falling from the ceiling.
He sees the ClaZel as more than a movie house and certainly not a bar. Since he purchased it, he’s acted on that vision.
“It is an edifice created as an interesting environment for community engagement,” Mufleh said. He said that goes back into the theater’s history. It was a gathering place during World War II where people learned the latest news.
He’s tried to maintain the venue at the heart of the community. There’s been fundraisers to help cancer patients raise money to defray the costs of treatment, theater performances, or political events for the Libertarians and Democrats. “It’s been a place, since it opened, that embraces its sense of community.”
The ClaZel has a memorandum of understanding with the College of Music to host concerts there, such as the recent performance by internationally known pianist Vicky Chow, who performed a piece for piano and electronics. He’s also hoping to work out an arrangement to bring back Jazz Night with the university jazz faculty that was suspended a few weeks ago.
This weekend the ClaZel hosted a Falcon Flame event for those who met their life partners at BGSU and then on Friday the Red Cross Fire and Ice.
Mufleh sees his market for the wedding and corporate business is within a 120-mile radius from Bowling Green.
The city, he said, is well located for business meetings for corporations with satellite offices throughout the region.
The ClaZel has also hosted weddings where the bride may come from Ann Arbor and the groom from Columbus.
The collaboration with the university is about more than revenue. Mufleh wants to build “synergy” with campus life.
Live Wire, a concert series sponsored by WBGU-FM is a prime example, he said.
The concerts, which showcase local, regional and sometimes national bands, are recorded for future broadcast on public TV.
The production, recording and staging are done by students, giving them professional experience.
On a smaller scale, Mufleh said, hosting student recitals has the same impact. “The students have to work hard to figure out the logistics. … They have to be able to learn the specifics and mechanics of events.”
“We’re a stakeholder in with community and a partner with BGSU,” he said. “Revenues continue to grow from special events. That allows us to continue to preserve the ClaZel.”
He added: “The business model for special events works out very well. Special events allow you to anticipate and plan.” With a special event, he knows how many people will attend. “There’s no guesswork,” he said. “The special events are a more resilient and productive business model as opposed to just opening up and wondering who’s going to show up, and what’re the ramifications if too many people show up.” That’s when the venue can be damaged, forcing the ClaZel staff to make repairs before the next day’s business.
When promoting this business, he said, he’s also promoting the amenities of the city as a whole, the restaurants and hotels as well as downtown shopping district. It’s a neighborhood he has a stake in. He lives just a few blocks from the ClaZel and owns several properties to the north of the theater.
He developed 145-147 N. Main into Doc Holliday’s restaurant. He also owns 149 and 153 N. Main. He’s contracted with Eric Pelham and Jeff Hobbie, who have been involved in other bar restaurants downtown, to manage the 149 space and develop the 153 space into a restaurant.
Mufleh said he’s pleased to see that 149 N. Main is getting an outside patio area, a concept he used when he first opened the Melt Shoppe where Doc Holliday’s is now.
“What excited me about that area of downtown is breathing life into properties abandoned or underutilized,” he said. “I believe in working collectively to bring more folks to downtown. It helps everybody out if we provide some interesting food, some interesting cocktails. It opens up the market for everyone.”
This mission to preserve buildings and neighborhoods in an economically viable way was shaped by business ventures and travels around the world, including Texas, Chicago and southern California.
For Mufleh the investment in downtown has been worth it. He said he put about $1 million into the ClaZel and recouped his investment in four years.
That work “solidifies the history of the ClaZel,” he said. “I believe that I’m a custodian and our team are custodians to make sure the ClaZel has relevance. It’s a sound structure. It’s a critical piece in the community.”
Though the theater isn’t on the market, Mufleh anticipates “along the way it gets passed down to someone else who will appreciate it and move it forward.”