Veteran promoters go live with new venue|
Houston Business Journal
An 80-year-old warehouse tucked away in an industrial area east of downtown is being transformed into Houston's newest live music venue.
Warehouse Live is a project of Louis Messina and Allen Becker, co-founders of the original Pace Concerts. Now the veteran concert promoters are teaming up with one of their protégés and two of their sons in a new production by the younger generation.
Warehouse Live is scheduled to open in late January at 813 St. Emanuel, between Rusk and Walker in the Warehouse District and just blocks away from Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The concert and event venue will host a variety of rock, hip hop and country musicians, as well as comedy shows, boxing matches and private events. A configuration of two performance areas can be combined for a total capacity of 1,750, or subdivided for smaller events.
Brent Silberstein, general manager of Warehouse Live, heads the second-generation of entertainment professionals who are teaming up with elders on the project. The 35-year-old Silberstein was working for Pace part-time during high school when he first met Louis Messina in 1986.
Messina says that even as a teenager, Silberstein showed signs of someone who would go far in the music industry.
After leaving Pace, Silberstein went on to become one of the top tour production professionals in the United States, working with such acts as N'Sync, Britney Spears and Fleetwood Mac.
Messina says Silberstein even turned down an opportunity to go on the road with Paul McCartney.
Silberstein's development of Warehouse Live prompted an investment by Messina, president of his own concert promotions company called The Messina Group.
Messina learned how hard it is to run a club when he operated the Agora Ballroom on Richmond years ago, and says Silberstein is up to the challenge.
"You have to have an owner who is totally hands-on and dedicated," says Messina. "I'm betting on him."
Having control over a local venue also attracted Messina because the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Toyota Center and Verizon Wireless Theater are all under the umbrella of Clear Channel Entertainment.
Through a series of acquisitions, Pace Entertainment, the parent company of Pace Concerts, was bought by SFX Entertainment, which was later purchased by Clear Channel. Messina says no one at the existing Pace Concerts, now his competitor, was around when he was running the company.
Messina's son Jeff and Becker's son Gary round out the second generation involved in the Warehouse Live project.
The 31-year-old Messina, who works as a talent buyer and promoter at his father's company, will be responsible for booking talent into Warehouse Live.
"It's going to be a very eclectic live music entertainment venue," says the younger Messina. "It's going to work for every type of genre of music."
Warehouse Live will showcase bands on the verge of hitting it big, such as John Mayer, John Legend and Norah Jones -- all brought to Houston by Louis Messina in the past.
"I think everyone will be surprised at the caliber of acts that will play the big room," he says.
As an added attraction, Silberstein says, Warehouse Live will import events that tend to skip Houston because the city lacks enough venues.
Silberstein has pursued plans to open his own club for the past decade.
He looked at close to four dozen possible locations over the years before finding 813 St. Emanuel in February of this year.
Historical details are cloudy on the building constructed in the early 1920s, but previous occupants included a nightclub and wholesale business.
The building once was almost knocked to the ground by mistake. City of Houston workers had orders to demolish a building, and the warehouse was whacked with a wrecking ball a couple of times before someone realized they had the wrong address.
A major repair job is evident by the mismatched brick that's visible in one corner of the warehouse.
Once Silberstein found the right location, investors came on board. Silberstein is general partner for Big City Entertainment, a limited partnership with eight investors, including several of his family members.
Silberstein signed a 10-year lease for Warehouse Live in July with Macey Family Properties, and has two five-year renewal options.
Investors will spend $1.3 million on the venue before it opens to the public next year -- $400,000 alone is earmarked for sound and lighting equipment.
Silberstein also wants to ensure he has enough working capital to stay in business, even if a rough patch happens along.
"We're trying to make sure we could survive one to two quarters if we didn't have any business," Silberstein says.
The building's high ceilings and exposed trusses caught Silberstein's eye and will be prominently featured in the final renovation. He hired Todd Blitzer of Mirador Group Inc. to design Warehouse Live after admiring the architect's work at the Red Cat Jazz Cafe in downtown Houston.
Warehouse Live will maintain a rustic setting with concrete floors and brick walls. But bathrooms will be upgraded with granite countertops to make the venue more suitable for private events.
Silberstein takes pleasure in staying true to the original nature of the industrial neighborhood. The area includes the 375-unit Lofts at the Ballpark and lots of other warehouses, along with a new club called Next.
Redevelopment of existing properties is preferable to the traditional Houston approach of tearing down old fixtures to pave the way for new projects, according to Silberstein.
"We're known for tearing it down instead of trying to preserve it," he says. "I want to keep everything as authentic as it can be."