When ATX Brands owner, Doug Guller, put Sixth Street club the Parish up for sale on online auction site eBay, many in the Austin music scene worried it was the death knell for another live music venue. On Thursday, local music fans were given a solid reason to breathe easier.
Stephen Sternschein, owner of Red River Cultural District club Empire Garage and Control Room, has confirmed that his company Heard Presents, in partnership with Simple Tone Ventures, will take over the club after participating in the auction.
In the four years since Sternschein opened Empire in a remodeled auto shop, he has grown the space into a vibrant live music venue with a diverse slate of bookings that cover everything from hip-hop and electronic music to rock ‘n’ roll. Last month, a jury of music critics, industry insiders and super fans selected the club as a finalist in the Venue of the Year category of the inaugural Austin360 Awards.
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The Parish, with its solid acoustics and warm atmosphere, was once lauded as one of Austin’s finest midsize venues. In recent years, the club slipped into the shadows with inconsistent bookings and no coherent marketing strategy.
The biggest fear of many local music enthusiasts was that the club would become a vanity project for a big money investor with no real world understanding of the challenges of running a club in Austin. Instead, it’s an expansion of operations from a successful local player.
Peter Blackstock contributed to this report.
From the press release:
Heard Presents and Simple Tone Ventures announced today that they have acquired The Parish, a landmark music venue in the heart of Austin’s East 6th Street district. The previous owner, Doug Guller of ATX Brands, auctioned the venue on eBay as he decided to get the company out of the music business altogether. Guller was looking for a team to “take [The Parish] to the next level” and he’s found that in Sternschein and Saunders.
Stephen Sternschein and Alex Saunders, who are the founders of Heard Presents and Simple Tones Ventures respectively, see the deal as an opportunity to rejuvenate The Parish as a mainstay of Austin’s live music scene. “It was important to me and I think to everyone in our community with all of the concern over iconic Austin creative spaces disappearing in the face of developmental pressures, that the Parish end up in the hands of an experienced operator committed to supporting local music. The best way to ensure that happened was to do it ourselves.” said Sternschein “We were worried the auction would push the price beyond what was reasonable…luckily, our first bid was also the winning bid, so we are pleased with the result.” adds Saunders. As first reported by Billboard, the team will be taking over the 12-year lease with two five-year renewal options.
For those unfamiliar, The Parish is an intimate live music venue with a 430-person capacity (5.3k sq ft) in the historic 6th Street district. It has top-of-the-line in-house sound, lighting and production equipment. Since its opening in 2003, shows include everything from established international bands to up-and-coming artists and Austin’s home-grown artists at all stages of their careers. It’s a “gem” in Austin’s live music scene, said Guller.
Heard co-founder Dave Machinist noted that the team does not plan to make significant changes to the venue, they just plan to “fill it with tons of great shows, and operate it with the same level of professionalism and care that we are known for at Empire.”
Heard Presents brings decades of experience in entertainment, booking and marketing in diverse genres and venues. “We saw an amazing opportunity to parlay the success of the Empire Control Room and Garage into the Parish. We believe injecting our expertise and passion into the venue will provide a new opportunity for the community to again enjoy what was once a local go to institution on 6th Street. In partnering with Simple Tones Ventures, we will work with a likeminded partner to further develop our grassroots approach. We’re delighted to be working with our community and our new partner to deliver a concert experience that is second to none.” says Sternschein of the acquisition. Sternschein is also the President of the Red River Cultural District Merchants’ Association and the co-founder of Prism.FM, an Austin-based startup that has developed concert management software to streamline and improve the lives of independent promoters and venue operators around the world.
Alex Saunders, CEO of Simple Tones Ventures, brings a passion for client experience. Saunders manages boutique venues on the east and west coasts, taking a distinctly local approach to growing each project.