Cliff Rucker’s been busy bringing hockey back to Worcester. He signed a lease with SMG, the DCU Center manager, in December; won over the ECHL Board of Governors in February; and he and team officials unveiled the new name and logo a mere week ago.
Next on tap for the North Shore businessman and team owner will be a spot for all those new Worcester Railers fans to flock postgame. Rucker said he has a purchase-and-sale agreement in place for 90 Commercial St., behind the DCU Center at the convention center end near the corner of Commercial and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Rucker, it appears, is all in.
“When everything with the hockey club was finalized, I sent a text to my kids that read ‘Railers for Life’,” Rucker said. “I think they found that funny. But it’s what I tell everyone now. It’s my motto.”
Rucker would not say how much he agreed to pay for the property currently owned by 90 Commercial Street LLC. It is assessed at $493,000. The agreement is pending approval of a special permit, for which he said he has an upcoming hearing.
The address, most recently the home of Bar FX, which used all three floors, has been a number of nightclubs and bars over the years, including Chasers, Voodoo and Fifth Amendment.
“On the first floor, our intention is to put in a Railers HC sports club. You could watch the home games at the arena, but we will stream the away games so you will be able to come in and watch the Railers play in Alaska, California, or Utah — which I think will be fun if you’re really a fan,” Rucker said.
“It will be a very hockey-centric sports club, restaurant and bar,” he added.
He expects the first-floor bar to be open August 2017, about two months before the first puck drop, but would not share plans for the rest of the building.
For hockey fans in and around Worcester, the club’s swift indoctrination and Rucker’s apparent commitment have fueled excitement, according to one of the chief rooters.
“Cliff believes in Worcester so much that he’s purchasing the Bar FX building right across the street from the DCU Center, to be a bar or pub for us hockey fans before and after games, and to watch Railers’ away games on TV there, and to host other club events,” said Railers’ booster club president Rich Lundin.
The Railers will be the 29th team in the ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League) beginning in the 2017-18 season.
The walls of the bar will be lined with hockey memorabilia, including merchandise from the Worcester Railers. Lundin said fans are very excited about the bar and have offered Rucker their own pieces of Worcester Hockey Past, including posters and jerseys from the American Hockey League’s IceCats and Sharks.
“Fans are really looking forward to it. Not just before and after the game, but one thing we’ve always lacked is a place to hang out together collectively when there’s away games,” Lundin said. “It’s getting us together and it’s really building us a fan base.”
Rucker envisions a televised Railers “coaches show” to be hosted at the bar, along with other hockey club member events. “I imagine the players will want to eat there, so you will have access to players, I would think. It will be an extension of the fan experience,” he said.
“It will be a community-centric gathering place for fans. We want it to be a good restaurant, not to just to survive on the merits of the team,” Rucker said. “We want it to have good food and be a comfortable place. We’re not relying only on our hockey club members. It has to stand on its own merits. That’s my goal.”
A name has not been chosen, but Rucker suggested to expect something like: “Railers HC Pub.” The owner said there won’t be a restaurant group affiliated with the club..
“I know less about the restaurant business than I did about the hockey business, but I’m going to learn. We’re going to do it on our own,” he said.
Rucker is managing partner of Porzia Properties, a national real estate investment firm and founder and president of NFS Leasing, a business equipment and technology leasing company in Beverly, among other business and charitable affiliations.
“It’s a hockey market. He loves the city and community. He’s putting his money down like we haven’t seen before,” Lundin said. “It just proves how much he’s willing to invest in this city and believes in Worcester as a whole.”