First Avenue Owner Axes Club Managers

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Steve McClellan, longtime manager and the heart and soul of Minneapolis' famed 34-year-old showcase club First Avenue, along with longtime club business manager Jack Meyer, were axed by club owner, Allan Fingerhut, on June 23, during Patti Smith's show.

"It's been an emotional week," Fingerhut told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Fingerhut insisted that McClellan and Meyer were suspended and not fired. However, their attorney, Joe Finley, told the paper that their contract with Fingerhut to run First Avenue has been terminated. "In my opinion, these are two guys who gave everything they had to the club and saw it through tough times, and this is the thanks they get," Finley said.

Fingerhut says the suspension is due to "philosophical differences" and vowed to keep First Avenue independent and locally owned “as long as I live,” Fingerhut told the Pioneer Press.

A slumping music industry and increased competition from Clear Channel Entertainment has added to the club's troubles; it has been losing money for the past three years. Fingerhut believes the club's format was geared too much to the 40- and 50-year-olds and he wants to bring back a more varied music menu. He has also dismissed suggestions that he’s planning to sell the club to Clear Channel or anyone else.

Clear Channel has no idea about my customer base," Fingerhut said.. "This is a family, ma-and-pa operation, and the funnest part is booking the groups. All the rest is work."

On June 25, when Fingerhut presented the club's new music blueprint — DJ sets, dance nights and karaoke-style events — he made the point that the club's trademark – live music – will continue to be in the mix.

New manager Chris Olson, who will be booking live music with Nate Kranz, has worked under McClellan for 10 years. Kranz has worked with McClellan for the past six years. Kranz, who took a six-month hiatus, was hired back by McClellan to reshape the dance events.

"Losing [McClellan] here is like losing our father," Olson said, "but he's passed on his little black book to us and taught us well," adding, "Allan is as passionate about this club as Steve is." — Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner

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