For the last nine years, Dallas Comedy House has provided Deep Ellum with its only entertainment venue dedicated solely to comedy, but the planning for a 10-year anniversary party might be cut short. The new landlord, Black Market Investments LLC, notified its tenant it needs to vacant the property by Monday.
In November, the Lockhart, Texas-based company behind Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, met with Dallas Comedy House owner Amanda Austin to discuss buying out her lease. Austin says she was presented with two purchase options. With two years left on her five-year lease in the building, she requested some time to think and asked to have the offers sent to her in writing. After receiving the numbers via email, Austin ultimately declined.
Through a continuing email exchange, Black Market invited Austin to counter in hopes of brokering a deal. Austin complied, reaching out for consultation to appraise the property and determine an amount suitable for her to make an unplanned move. On Nov. 16, Austin says, she emailed two counteroffers to Mark Black and the family’s real estate agent. The counteroffers were met with silence, Austin says, and she didn't speak to the Black family again.
Austin says that in January, when reaching out to her previous landlord to approve Dallas Comedy Festival permits, she learned Black Market had purchased the building Jan. 5. She says she did not receive notification of the purchase.
“I then reached out to who he told me was the new landlord, and I said, ‘I heard you bought the building — look forward to working with you. Can you tell me who my new point of contact would be moving forward?’” Austin says. “They did not respond. The next contact I had from who was said to be my new landlord was in the form of the first of three default notices on Jan. 25.”
Austin says the default notices were not rent-related — Black Market has accepted her monthly lease payments — but rather focused on the legitimacy of permits on file granting DCH permission to host shows and classes.
Further communication between DCH and Black Market Investments has been limited to a second default notice in February and a third this month. The space passed an April 11 inspection by the fire marshal, but Austin has seen a growing number of infractions listed on the default notices.
“They’ve claimed that some of them we haven’t fixed and then they’ve added a lot more,” Austin says. “My legal team believes that we are compliant with my lease and that we are not in default.”
Emotions began to escalate when Austin received a letter last week to terminate tenancy. Legal counsel from Black Market officially informed her she would need to vacate by Monday, Austin says.
Comedians and longtime supporters of Dallas Comedy House made their displeasure known by reaching out to district representatives, starting petitions and calling for a boycott of Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin. The rumblings from the Dallas comedy community made their way to the Black family through social media, eliciting a public response from the Terry Black’s Barbecue Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Ms. Austin’s assertion that her introduction to us was a default letter could not be further from the truth. We went above and beyond to notify her of numerous issues and gave her over two months to resolve these issues,” an excerpt from the post reads. “It is disturbing to see several people jump to such drastic conclusions about us and our family business based upon completely biased and one sided stories. Much of what has been written is misleading or completely false, and we think any rational person would agree, when there are business disputes things like this happen when one side tries to win public opinion.”
Jessica Burnham, the executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation since June 2015, has watched many businesses come and go in her time with the foundation. She says Black Market’s approach to acquiring the DCH property was unusual.
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“It does not line up with any other property owner best practices that I have seen or have been made aware of in my time here in this role,” Burnham says. “Usually you would just acquire the building and let the lease that’s existing run its course.”
The Deep Ellum Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that focuses on the betterment of the neighborhood. Working closely with Deep Ellum business owners, the foundation has a contract with the city of Dallas to assist in the improvement and safety of local businesses. As of last week, Black Market had not been in contact with the Deep Ellum Foundation about any grievances with the building or anything else.
“This to me is one of the first true examples of displacement,” Burnham says. “Almost every other major development or major shift in ownership or anything has happened on vacant land or a vacant building, but this is the first example I know of in my three years of being here that someone is actively getting pushed out that is not warranted.”
Our email to the attorney that represents Black Market went unanswered. We left a message with the Black Market Investments' receptionist and will update if we hear back.