Empire Control Room & Garage has taken a big step to secure its future on East Seventh Street.
Heard Entertainment, the company that runs the vibrant Red River Cultural District venue, took full ownership of Empire's indoor Control Room club Thursday.
The venue, which hosts everything from electronic dance music to rock 'n' roll, is home to three stages spread across two properties. There's an indoor space, the Control Room, with a patio that overlooks Waller Creek, and an adjacent outdoor amphitheater, the Garage, situated on the site of a former automotive shop. The Garage is owned by Trey Spaw, a Heard Entertainment partner who also owns neighboring venue the Side Bar.
Heard Entertainment founder and managing partner Stephen Sternschein said his company has been trying to buy the indoor venue since he moved into the space seven years ago, “but we couldn’t agree on a purchase price.” A year and a half ago, with their lease up and the landlord raising the rent, he said they resumed negotiations to buy the building.
“Again, we got pretty far through the process, and we couldn’t agree on a purchase price,” Sternschein said. The property at 606 E. Seventh St. has an appraised value of $869,000, according to the Travis County Appraisal District.
The club’s future was then put into question when local businessman Nate Paul’s World Class Holdings tried to buy the venue.
“Part of the reason I think our deal didn’t go through the first time is because they had Nate waiting in the wings. We couldn’t agree, and they were like, ‘Oh we’ll sell it to Nate, he’s got cash,’” Sternschein said.
Paul’s attempt to buy Empire came after World Class Holdings purchased and closed two dance music venues, Kingdom and Ethics Music Lounge. An Austin Chronicle article about the prospective deal led to a widespread backlash among local music fans.
Paul "had to get rid of his phone, because somebody posted his phone number and then he backed out of the purchase for some reason,” Sternschein said.
The downtown offices of World Class Holdings were raided by the FBI earlier this month.
After World Class Holdings’ attempt to buy Empire Control Room fell through, Sternschein said his group “sent out an email to friends and family saying, 'We have this opportunity and need help.'"
He was able to bring on board three investors, Lou Ellman, Steven Kalil and Jeff Speck. Sternschein said he again engaged in the purchase process at the beginning of the summer. The deal was finalized Thursday.
Now that his company owns both properties, Sternschein said he plans to apply for a grant from the city’s Creative Space Assistance Program to make some renovations. He declined to go into specifics but said he hopes to increase capacity at the venue and focus on “improving the experience for customers and for artists who come through” with more comfortable restrooms and better bars.
The sale was fast-tracked over the summer, which Sternschein said "added a lot of stress."
“But there’s a big monkey coming off our backs, and the future is very bright,” he said.
In addition to Empire Control Room & Garage, Heard Entertainment owns Sixth Street venue the Parish, which the group bought on eBay in January last year.