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Dave Olson, Published July 08 2013

VIDEO: Fire officials suspect arson may have played role in former nightclub fire

MOORHEAD – Moorhead Fire Chief Rich Duysen said Monday that officials suspect arson may have played a role in a fire that heavily damaged a long-closed nightclub in downtown Moorhead.

Duysen said firefighters found an unsecured door when they arrived about 2:45 a.m. Monday at the former Coach’s Sports Pub, 617 Center Ave., after a police officer on patrol reported smoke coming from the building.

Duysen said when firefighters arrived they found heavy smoke coming from the building. The fire concentrated in what used to be the nightclub’s kitchen, where he said it is believed the fire started.

Duysen said the building’s sprinkler system had been turned off, which the law allows if most combustibles have been removed from the building and if the local fire department is aware of the situation.

He said the Moorhead Fire Department was aware of the sprinkler situation. Firefighters reactivated the system and used it to help control the blaze.

Firefighters were still on the scene at 7 a.m. Monday putting out hotspots, including one in the roof of the building near a ventilation duct.

Duysen said the state fire marshal’s office was on the scene Monday afternoon to help with the investigation.

Coach’s closed in 2005 after the city decided not to renew its liquor license. Before the bar closed, it was a busy place for police calls, including fights, many of which took place in its parking lot, said police Lt. Tory Jacobson.

Coach’s was also in the news in March 2004 when Jason Reinhardt died at a Moorhead fraternity house after consuming at least 15 drinks at the bar to celebrate his 21st birthday.

Jacobson, who was the lead investigator, said police knew how many drinks Reinhardt had because he kept track of them on a bar napkin. Jacobson said Reinhardt listed who paid for each drink, intending to thank them later.

Jacobson said the area was experiencing several issues with college-age drinking at the time of Reinhardt’s death.

He said Reinhardt’s death was connected to what was then called “power hour,” so called because people would head for a bar at midnight on the day before their birthday and spend about an hour drinking heavily before the bar closed.

Jacobson said a communitywide effort to heighten awareness of the danger of such practices helped ease problems, but he said issues involving young people and alcohol still exist.

City records show the Coach’s building is owned by American Square West, a business with a mailing address in Lino Lakes, Minn.

Attempts to reach someone at American Square West were not successful.

Chuck Chadwick, executive director of the Moorhead Business Association, said he has heard talk that someone was eyeing the Coach’s property for development, but he said names have not been mentioned publicly.

He said a potential buyer might find the property attractive because it is located in a zone that makes development eligible for tax breaks and other incentives.

According to city records, for taxes payable in 2013 the land is valued at close to $368,000 while the building is valued at about $356,000.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555