Balcony Club staves off eviction

By Bruce Felps

The Balcony Club remains alive and swinging.

After a brush with eviction, a donation-generating night of jazz and libations, along with the rallied support of the community, The Balcony Club raised enough money to appease the landlord.

Behind on rent, owner Thomas Stanco managed to pay off a portion of the debt and, in meeting with amenable property representatives, renegotiate a more favorable lease.

A full release from the club appears after the jump. Suffice it to say, though, that the jazz licks will continue for a good while to come.

Through a combination of investor participation and impressively strong sales in recent weeks, driven in part by an energetic publicity campaign, Lakewood’s Balcony Club has raised the funds necessary to make a substantial payment on its back rent.  With cash in hand, club owner Thomas Stanco was able to negotiate, with property owner Rutledge-Willingham, an agreement including a schedule for repayment of all rent arrears and a three-year lease with a %17 reduction in rent.

“We’ve still got a lot of obstacles to overcome, and need very brisk business in the next few weeks to meet the payment schedule we committed to,” says Mr. Stanco, “but we think we’ll be able to avoid closing, and are convinced our long-term future is very promising.”

The club, located above the historic Lakewood Theater and widely regarded as one of Dallas’ premier jazz venues, faced a lockout on Wednesday, September 14 due to its being $18,000 behind on its rent.  Club finances have been shaky in recent years due to the national economic downturn and an incident involving the club’s fire alarm which necessitated massive unanticipated expenditures. 

Having been notified of the possible eviction two weeks in advance, Mr. Stanco, with the help of club employees, longtime performers, and enthusiastic boosters, scrambled to raise the funds necessary for survival.  He began with measures to publicize the club’s plight, hoping both to lure potential investors, and to bring in more traffic from a loyal group of patrons eager to help.

A press release detailing the club’s situation generated immediate sympathetic coverage from the Dallas Observer, and subsequent coverage from The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, Pegasus News, The Lakewood Advocate, and KERA’s “Art & Seek” website.  A benefit scheduled for Sat., Sept 10 was promoted through an enthusiastic social media campaign and resulted in very strong turnout.  The club charged cover on several busier evenings – a departure from its usual practice – and received many donations larger than the requested $5, including a $100 contribution from a particularly generous benefactor.

Moreover, several prospective investors contacted Mr. Stanco with proposals.  While some were scared off by the club’s lack of a long-term lease and its apparently turbulent relations with Rutledge-Willingham, one group, who wish to remain anonymous, made commitments to Mr. Stanco which he says he is not at liberty to discuss.  He characterizes the investors, however, as “angels on his shoulder” who are committed to preserving Balcony Club’s identity, and will play an unspecified but important role in its future.

Even so, as the Sept 14 deadline approached, the club remained well short of the $18,000 needed to pay off all arrears, and on Tues, Sept 14, Mr. Stanco and the club’s staff assumed that they were facing Balcony Club’s last day in existence.  A large crowd turned out that evening for what amounted to a farewell party, and a spirit of joyful celebration prevailed.  The generosity of patrons resulted in a tip pool equal to 68% of sales, according to bartender Michael Pyeatt’s Facebook post shortly after closing time.

The next day, however, Mr. Stanco visited the property, and was surprised to discover that the locks had not been changed, and no eviction notice had been posted.  In ensuing days, Mr. Stanco, who had previously been negotiating with property manager Meg Robinson through his attorney Jim DePetris, opened a channel of communication directly to Craig Kinney, a more senior representative of Rutledge-Willingham, and found him sympathetic.

An agreement was reached allowing the club to temporarily open on Friday, Sept 16, and continue to generate revenues which could be applied to back rent, while negotiations regarding the club’s long term status continued.  With solid sales over the weekend, Mr. Stanco was able to commit to making an $8000 payment on Wednesday, Sept 21, and to a payment schedule for settling remaining arrears.  In return, Mr. Kinney offered a generous lease proposal which Mr. Stanco signed yesterday morning.

Significant hurdles remain, however.  The club faces other debts which will need to be addressed in upcoming months, and must increase sales over the long-term to remain viable.  It is developing plans to improve its marketing and promotions, including more effective public relations and social media strategies, and modifications of its website to improve search engine visibility.  The club also plans to build relationships with Metroplex music schools, jazz appreciation societies, non-profit radio stations, and Lakewood-oriented civic organizations, with a view to hosting benefits, music student performance nights, and other community-driven events.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as a cultural institution and we think that if our business plan more visibly reflects that, we can help both the community and our bottom line,” says Mr. Stanco.  “It appears that a lot of changes are coming to Lakewood, and we’re excited about the ways we can contribute to changing Lakewood for the better.”


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