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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012

Where Can a Band Even Practice Anymore?

Recent evictions leave musicians in a crunch

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It’s been a bummer of a year for creative hubs in Milwaukee. After a long state of limbo and debate about its future, the Sydney Hih building was demolished into a pile of rubble in August. The legendary building is now just a memory for generations of artists and musicians who rented studio space there. In July, a five-alarm fire destroyed the Riverwest building that was home to Joe’s East Coast Car Shop and upper-level studio and gallery spaces. Some of the artists escaped with only the clothes on their backs. And now this: A dozen or so bands are scrambling to find new quarters after being served an eviction notice from the Plaza View Building, 610 N. Water St.

Wedged between the Milwaukee Building (the one with the ladybug sculptures on the front) and the Grand Avenue Club on the corner of Water and Michigan, Plaza View has hosted band practice space for at least 10 years. Ed Osburg moved into Plaza View with his band Masonry six years ago. Before the move they had dealt with the typical frustrations facing a band trying to settle into a practice space. They had tried different band members’ basements and attics, but were finding overcrowded spaces and complaints about noise that sometimes led to a visit by the police. Osburg says he tried to soundproof some of these spaces, but complaints continued.

That was the biggest appeal to bands moving in to Plaza View—the Downtown location was empty at the end of the business day, and the lack of residents meant they could rock out into the night.

Osburg and a band mate kept their space after Masonry broke up and transitioned to a new band, Space Collector. They shared the studio with other bands, including Northless and Drumlins.

Fellow musicians from a range of genres rented other studios in the building, including familiar names locally and beyond: Juniper Tar, Maritime, The Celebrated Workingman, Get Rad, Liar’s Trial, and IfIHadAHiFi, among others. Juniper Tar started renting a space in the building 10 years ago; IfIHadAHiFi had just moved into a space with Liar’s Trial and a new project, Body Futures, in August. Plaza View had become a landmark of musicians in the heart of Downtown.

That’s what made Osburg’s discovery of an eviction notice affixed to Space Collector’s studio door in late September all the more disheartening. Looking down the halls, he saw the same notice tacked to “every door that had a band behind it.” The notice informed musicians that they had until Oct. 31 to vacate the premises.

At first, Osburg wasn’t sure what was going on. He speculated that the building might have been sold. But soon rumors began to float between the studios: Management was sick of dealing with bad behavior from some of the musicians. Osburg says he began hearing about debris and trash in the hallways and vomit in one of the shared bathrooms. He speculated that these issues probably arose from too much subletting of spaces to other, less responsible bands.

Needless to say, the situation was frustrating to musicians who had been longtime, respectful tenants.

“They didn’t negotiate; they just decided to throw the boom down,” Osburg says of building management. “There was very little communication.”

Representatives from Burke Properties, which owns the building, did not respond to queries about this story.

Members of Space Collector are unsure where they will go from here. They’ve been searching, but finding an affordable space free from noise complaints is no easy chore. Osburg says he would most likely see if there was anything available at the Hide House in Bay View, a rare site that fits the bill.

But the Hide House has limits, with a dozen rehearsal spaces and only one possible opening in the next month. That means that as the final musicians clear their gear out of the Plaza View Building at the end of the month, many of them will be pondering where to go next.

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