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  • Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
    The former Outlaws clubhouse building on West Main Street has been sold, and the owners plan to paint it medium blue and turn it into a yoga studio.

  • The building will get a complete renovation before the yoga studio opens during the summer.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
    Luke Messmann says he expects to spend about $25,000 to renovate the former clubhouse.
March 06, 2016 1:03 AM

Outlaws clubhouse to get makeover into yoga studio

West Main Street neighbors welcome new owner's vision

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Before Luke Messmann opened a T-shirt shop in Maui, he asked a priest to bless the long-deserted building.

“It really took away the eerie feeling from that place,” he said of the pineapple plantation property that even his real estate agent discouraged him from leasing.

“But I don’t feel it here,” Messmann said late last week as he led an informal tour of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club’s former local clubhouse. “I feel good about being in here.”

The Fort Wayne native hopes clients feel good about it, too. He plans to open a still-unnamed yoga studio there in June or July. It’s a move that neighboring business owners applaud. 

Messmann’s fiancée, Amber Jernigan, bought the two-story, all-black building at 1202 W. Main St. on Feb. 26 for $36,000. The property was listed for $49,900 late last year after the federal government seized it in September. 

That followed an FBI raid of the clubhouse in May 2013. Members of the international club have been linked to drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, witness tampering and illegal gambling. Some Outlaws also have been arrested on assault and weapons charges. 

Messmann, who will manage the business, was busy last week getting the heat turned on and starting an extensive remodel that will remove the dingy and broken black-and-white floor tiles and cigarette butts discarded on the black, wooden staircase. Among other ¬≠changes, the main entrance will be moved to the back of the building. 

He expects to spend about $25,000 on new windows, doors, floors and paint inside and out. 

“That will be one of the first things we do as soon as it gets nice out,” he said of the medium-blue paint chosen for the building’s exterior. “We want it to really change so people aren’t nervous to come in.” 

Plans call for installing appliances in a small upstairs kitchen. The second floor will be outfitted with furniture to create a two-bedroom apartment where visiting yoga instructors can stay overnight or for a few weeks, Messmann said. 

After transforming the property, he plans to invite family and friends to another blessing ceremony. Messmann isn’t sure it’s necessary, but he figures it can’t hurt. 

Matt Merritt, co-owner of ATOM Acres Family Farm, has known Messmann for almost 20 years. They’ve talked for a few years about the need for a local hot yoga studio heated to the recommended 105 degrees and following a set structure of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.

“He just said, ‘I’m going to do it because nobody else is doing it,’ ” Merritt said of Messmann, whom he considers the perfect guy for the job. “His personality and the energy he gives off are very calming.”

Messmann spent a month in Florida last year getting certified as a yoga instructor by Evolation. Jernigan enjoys Zumba workouts, so they might add a Zumba class to the studio’s schedule. The walls, he said, will display work by local artists. 

Jernigan, a Fort Wayne native and certified public accountant, works for Superior Essex. The couple plan to be married in a local Catholic church in May. The reception will be at Parkview Field.

“Once again, we’re trying to support downtown in every way that we can,” he said.

Messmann and Jernigan, both 34, met more than three years ago after each had graduated from a local high school and moved away to live in other parts of the country for several years. Her career took her to New York, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. His travels led to Hawaii and Portland, Oregon. But they each decided to move back home about four years ago.

They’re a perfect example of millennials becoming more involved in the community, Messmann said. And the West Main Street corridor is a great example of a neighborhood that is remaking itself as a destination.

“Everybody is pretty excited that we bought the place,” he said, citing phone calls from neighboring business owners.

Lori Bannister is among that group. She has owned and operated Hairspray, a salon at 1315 W. Main St., for about 10 years.

Although the Outlaws members “were actually very nice,” she said, she’s happy to have a yoga studio move into the neighborhood.

“I was just really excited to see something healthy come down here on Main Street, not just bars,” she said. “I’ve told quite a few of my clients about it, and they’re really excited, too.”

Bannister, who has tried yoga, is preparing for the studio’s summer opening by signing up now for classes at the Fort Wayne Community Center. She expects to be plenty limber in time to start taking classes from Messmann, whom she described as a friend.

Among the other businesses on West Main Street are longtime residents Paula’s on Main, O’Sullivan’s Italian Pub and Redwood Inn. Newer establishments include Pedal City, Skeletunes Lounge and the still-in-progress Junk Ditch Brewing, which will open in a two-story brick warehouse at 1825 W. Main St. 

Chris Shatto, president of the Nebraska Neighborhood Association, welcomes Messmann’s studio to the area. 

“It seems like one of the corridors where a lot is happening right now,” he said of West Main Street.

Shatto, who helps organize the West Main Street farmer’s market each summer, would like to see even more investment in the neighborhood, including coffee shops, bookstores and sandwich shops to lure University of Saint Francis students who will soon invade the downtown campus.

sslater@jg.net