HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington has filed a lawsuit seeking control of a Fairfield building that has hosted numerous problematic businesses since 2007.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction asking the court to give it authority to shutter the former Gary’s Place, located at 2005 10th Ave., and padlock the building to prevent anyone from continuing operations. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams previously said he has hopes to demolish the building.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Cabell Circuit Court by Huntington city attorney Scott Damron, lists as defendants Gary Stanley, the property owner since 2007; Christopher Thomas, of Kalamazoo, Michigan; and CT’s Biker Club, a domestic nonprofit association that was recently doing business at the bar and whose president was listed as Thomas.
“In considering the balance of hardships between the city and its citizens, as opposed to those of the defendants, the remedy in equity is warranted,” the lawsuit said.
The defendants have 20 days to answer the complaint, once notified.
The lawsuit does not seek to demolish the building because Damron is unsure the city can ask for that.
Damron added that while the exterior of the building looks sound, issues with electric and other utilities inside were enough for it to be put on the unsafe building list. It is going through proceedings now, which often leads to the demolition of buildings.
Gary’s Place was declared a public nuisance by the Huntington City Council in 2016. The lawsuit said since Stanley took control of the property in 2007, police have responded to 213 calls — 140 related to the operation of the bar, including 21 shots-fired or shooting calls. Four of those resulted in homicides.
Its liquor license was suspended for two years after it was forfeited in 2016 and the city reached a deal with the bar owner for it to stay closed for two years or until it sold. While the bar was placed on the housing market, it never sold, and instead reopened under a different name and management at the end of 2019.
While Gary’s Place has not reopened, the city believes Stanley has leased the business to at least two non-licensed bars: Tamika’s Social Club and, most recently, CT’s Biker Club.
Police said while the establishment’s name changed, not much else did, and it was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this month — just over four years later — after Audra J. Perry, 28, of Huntington, and Marcus D. Graham, 29, of Michigan, were killed Sept. 3 via shootings at the bar. Warrants are active for Devon M. Carey, 25, in relation to those shootings.
City Communications Director Bryan Chambers previously said the establishment had reopened under its latest name Sept. 2 and was operating illegally. Although it had a state business license, it did not have a city business or liquor license and city officials were unaware the newest business was in operation.
Huntington police had conducted a drug investigation at the location under a different business name earlier this year after making several drug transactions with a man outside the establishment. Federal court documents showed Huntington detectives seized from the location at least one firearm, scales, baggies and a brown powder during the search.
After that investigation, Huntington police issued a nuisance property notification to Stanley about numerous complaints regarding criminal action, asking him to remedy the issue, which was not followed, the lawsuit said.
Stanley defended the bar in 2016, stating the majority of the reports happened when the bar was closed and should not be associated with it. He said he had attempted to control the issues by installing a fence and night-vision security cameras and having security at the door.
Damron said the city is taking the position that it’s not just the owner who is the issue; it’s the building itself. To make sure the buck doesn’t get passed again, the city is seeking a permanent resolution this time.
While the building was empty until the agreement expired, Damron said there’s no other building in Huntington that has been called as many times for reports of shots fired.
“We are not looking to reach any type of agreement this time,” he said. “Clearly this owner has no concern for how this property is used.”
The chronic nuisance property ordinances were passed by the city of Huntington in 2009 and allow the city to eliminate hazards to public health and safety by declaring a problematic property a public nuisance.
If the lawsuit is successful, it would not be the first time the city has taken control of a property and torn it down to alleviate the issue.
About a block away from the former Gary’s Place stands an empty lot that was once the ALLINONE Store, a Sunoco gas station, which was shut down and razed in 2012 after it was declared a public nuisance when an investigation revealed at least $127,000 in food stamp fraud had occurred there.
The store had been a magnet for drugs and violence for years before the prosecution.
Huntington City Manager Hank Dial said while the two properties have similar issues in criminal activity, they are different in that the owner of the gas station had been directly participating in crime.
The gas station’s razing worked to solve the issue, Huntington Police Chief Ray Cornwell said.