Rio Rita Moves to Badlands

Was Chicon venue pushed, or did they jump?

Badlands out, Rio Rita moves in, and venue property prices cause a Facebook fight between the owners.

It seems like too many of Austin's clubs and bars are either closing or moving because of rents. The latest shift sees the owners of two well-loved venues – Badlands and Rio Rita – exchanging fire via Facebook.

The headline news is that Badlands at 1203 Chicon will be closing on Sept. 30, and that Rio Rita, currently at 1308 E. Sixth, will be moving into that space, while Badlands seeks a new home.

However, there is more here than just rent-hunting, but a very public dispute between Badlands' owner/operators Shane and Shannon Howard, and Randall Stockton of Rio Rita.

On Sept. 14, the Howards issued a statement via Facebook. The couple opened the combination dive bar/diner/venue in 2014. They wrote that, with the lease up for renewal, they had taken all the steps to continue operations, including renewing their alcohol license, adding new sound and light systems, and booking shows through December.

However, on Aug. 26, they were contacted by the real estate agent for their landlord, Jim Daywood, who informed them that Daywood had agreed to lease the property to Stockton. The Howards write that this was a surprise to them, because they had met with Daywood earlier in the summer, and reached a handshake agreement that included a near 200% rent increase. On Sept. 1, they received a formal notification from Daywood's attorney to quit the property by the end of the month, as a lease with another tenant had already been signed. That tenant would be Stockton.

Stockton issued his own response via the Rio Rita Facebook page. His version is that it was Rio Rita that was being forced out of its current location, and that he had approached the Howards during the summer to discuss their plans.

This is where the versions of events diverge. The Howards say that Stockton approached them with a "proposal" and they declined. Stockton wrote that he was simply sounding out their future plans, and that "[Shane] said they intended to stay unless we made an offer in the 'six figure range.'” With those numbers out of his reach, he accepted that he would not be able to relocate, and Rio Rita would probably close.

The question then is what happened with the handshake deal the Howards thought they had struck with Daywood. Shane Howard said that he was later told by Daywood's lawyers that Stockton had made an offer on not simply Badlands, but the whole corner of that block. Stockton says he had been approached by Daywood several weeks after his meeting with the Howards, and was told that they had not signed the new lease, that he wanted to lease the whole corner of that block to a single client, and that there were already other potential tenants lined up. As Stockton explains, his only real option was to relocate Rio Rita – which was going to close at its current location anyway – to Chicon.

Both sides have a bigger stake on the block. The Howards also run Romani Gallery and Mystery City Tattoo on the East 12th side, while Stockton's brother runs another bar, King Bee (which Stockton used to run when it was still the Legendary White Swan). Daywood's plan to lease the entire corner to one tenant put all four businesses on the chopping block. Now, the Howards will be looking for new homes for all three of their businesses.

The exact path forward for both venues seems unclear. The Howards have said that they are looking for a new location, and will either cancel or postpone upcoming events until they can relocate. Similarly, Stockton has said that he hopes that Rio Rita will be in the new space before the end of the year.

This very public argument is just the latest round in debates about the impact of property prices on clubs and venues. It comes in the same week as the Austin Creative Alliance held its Save Our Spaces rally, and will only bring more focus on Mayor Steve Adler's omnibus resolution on creating a sustainable arts and music ecosystem.

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