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  • Deister Machine employees and local faith leaders watch Monday the demolition of the Sports & Spirits Bar building. Beforehand, a remembrance ceremony took place. (Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette)

  • Deister Machine officials paid for the demolition of Sports & Spirits Bar. The land will become a green space.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 1:00 am

Bad-news bar goes from trouble to rubble

Joy as $300,000 erases violent past

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

Mark Deister had just stepped up to a podium in a parking lot at East Wayne Street and South Anthony Boulevard and begun to speak when a woman in a black minivan drove by and yelled, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

That's because Deister and a handful of employees of Deister Machine and pastors were there to say a few words and watch the Sports & Spirits bar be turned to a pile of rubble.

For years the bar, which sits next to Deister Machine, had been the site of gunfire where people were maimed and even a nearby university peppered with stray bullets. There were thefts and fights.

The last straw came in September when three people were shot to death there. The bar closed minutes after the shooting and never reopened.

Deister started negotiations to buy the building and reached a deal this year.

Monday, the Rev. Roger Reese, executive pastor of the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, said we all need to be restored from time to time, and so does the land. He asked for forgiveness for the things that had happened there and asked that new life be breathed into the property.

Then a big backhoe tore into the building. A small addition on the back collapsed flimsily, and the building's doom had begun.

After the short memorial ceremony, the small crowd watched the demolition and Deister talked to people.

Once word got out he was going to tear down the bar and turn the lot into green space, Deister said he's gotten more than 100 calls of thanks.

His workers will be thankful too, said Larry Owen, facilities manager at Deister. The company has a supply building nearby where workers coming and going at late hours found the goings on at the bar scary.

Asked why he chose to buy the bar and level it, he said “Because we can. It's the right thing to do.”

Few would disagree.

But getting the job done was tough. The property had three owners – the landowner, the building owner and the business owner. Owen, who handled the negotiations, had to deal with all three, and it took time.

It's not the first time Deister has torn down a bar, though. Twenty years ago there was a place called the Pheasant Inn on East Wayne next to another building that was part of Deister Machine. His workers would go there for lunch and either come back to work drunk or not return at all.

He has good workers, Deister says, so he removed the temptation.

Of course buying bars and tearing them down isn't an inexpensive proposition, even if the place is fatally tainted.

Asked how much it cost to erase Sports & Spirits from the face of the earth, he said the property, demolition and landscaping would cost about $300,000 in all.

That's a lot, he acknowledged. But, he added, “You can't take it with you.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.