Can a petition help?EXPAND
Can a petition help?
Sam Casey

Long-Standing All-Ages Venue Starwood Studios Struggles to Keep Doors Open

After eight years of business, Starwood Studios, an all-ages concert venue in Southlake, has been forced by the city to close its doors to live music. The venue has seen the likes of artists such as Post Malone (before he was Post Malone) and local bands Polyphia and Crown the Empire.

For some, the venue is a staple of their childhood memories. Guitars hang on the wall to the left of the stage, and a full-fledged arcade sits in the back.

“I found my own style as an artist at Starwood, and as a person as well,” says Aubrey Folck, a former regular at Starwood Studios.

Southlake is calling the closure an abundance of caution. After seeing an online concert flier, the city sent Starwood Studios a cease and desist letter. Having paid admission for concerts might lead the venue to exceed its maximum occupancy, according to an emailed statement made by the city.

However, there seems to be some confusion on the number of people allowed in the venue.

“Every time the fire marshal came by, there was never a change in the maximum occupancy,” Tanner Stephen, manager of Starwood Studios, says. “It’s like, all of a sudden, it just changed over a weekend.”

In a 2010 document detailing the zoning ordinance for the Starwood Studios property, the maximum occupancy is stated as 75 during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). For off-business hours, which is usually when the venue hosts its concerts, up to 120 people are allowed inside, according to the document.

In the statement made by the city, this number is much lower, allowing up to only 49 people inside the venue. A recent inspection by the fire marshal’s office determined the maximum occupancy should be decreased.

This is because of the facility having only one fire department-approved exit, the swing of the exit door and the headroom above the stairwell that leads people out of the space, according to the statement.

Public safety is the city’s first priority, the statement said. The city and Stephen have this in common.

“My goal is to provide a safe space for the community that gives back. That’s my primary sole objective,” Stephen says. “It was all about providing kids with the safest place to play.”

Jarrett Adlof, guitarist for local band Offended By Everything, started a petition on change.org to help keep the venue open for live music. Adlof says he wishes something had actually happened to prompt the city’s cease and desist letter.

“It wasn’t like ‘Hey, we saw kids drinking in the parking lot,’ or ‘There were noise complaints.’ [There was] none of that,” Adlof says.

Offended By Everything’s fans are usually around 14 to 21 years old. Considering most of their fans cannot drink, the venue’s no-alcohol policy has made it ideal for Adlof’s band. At the two shows his band played at Starwood Studios, Adlof says they drew about a hundred people.

When the venue announced it had been shut down, Adlof decided to have a meeting with the owners. Besides posting on social media, they wanted to find something they could do to reopen the venue.

He thought a petition might garner the attention they needed to keep the venue from closing for good. He started one on change.org and set a goal for 1,000 signatures.

“All I’m hoping is that it will spread around enough for somebody to see it and think, ‘This is not a good brand for the city of Southlake,’” Adlof says. “Even if nothing happens, at least a thousand people tried.”

This is not the first time Starwood Studios has had issues with the city. The space was originally a gym before the previous owners gave up their lease in 2010. Stephen’s dad, Thomas Stephen, owned the property.

“My dad was like, ‘This is a weird space. It’s very big [with] a huge maximum occupancy. What else would you fuckin’ have in here besides a gym,’” Stephen says.

Around the time Stephen was 13, he was playing guitar in a band called Quoth the Raven. He approached his dad about having a concert in the space with all his friends. His dad looked at the then dead-empty room and thought it would be the perfect place to have live music.

They rented an old PA system and had their first, but not their last, small makeshift concert. Eventually, people on the City Council found out what they were doing and tried to shut them down.

Thomas Stephen met with the council to reason with them to keep the place open. At the time, they had the zoning for a music studio. He told them that is what the facility is, Stephen says. They operate as a studio and occasionally host events. He proceeded to list all the other businesses in the area that did the same thing.

“[He said] ‘You’re going to knock me down and you’re going to knock them down too, or you’re not going to knock anyone down,’” Stephen says. “He walked out of that meeting with everyone on his fuckin’ side.”

The owners plan to fight to keep their venue open as they did eight years ago. Stephen fears if he is not able to continue operating Starwood Studios as a concert venue, he will be forced to open a new place that will require bar sales to make ends meet.

“It’s still a venue, but it doesn’t have the specialness that it does when it’s all ages with no alcohol,” Stephen says. “That’s where the true magic happens.”

According to the city, the number of occupants allowed in the second-floor studio could be increased if modifications are made, including more fire department-approved exits.

A meeting took place July 24 between the owners of the property and a city official. Representatives from the city’s Fire Department and Planning and Development Services will work in the coming weeks to hammer out a resolution.

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