Facing landlord debacle, Somerville's Starlab Studios is fighting back - Metro US

Facing landlord debacle, Somerville’s Starlab Studios is fighting back

Starlab's Marc Valois appeared in a promo video for a benefit concert on Wednesday

Last year, Starlab Studios had to start over.

Forced out of its old Prospect Street location two years prior to make way for the Green Line’s planned extension through Somerville, the scrappy DIY music-and-arts service set up shop again at a new spot a few blocks away in Union Square. The GLX was coming, and there wasn’t much they could do.

Now, after months of renovations in its new headquarters (a cozy, repurposed car garage), Starlab is again facing the possibility of being uprooted, this time via a contract dispute with a new landlord who, Starlab’s leaders say, has locked them out of the space.

This time, Starlab is fighting back, rallying its community of supporters to help pay for a brewing legal battle.

“It’s frustrating,” Richard Hawke, a Starlab leader who runs the studio’s video and photo wing, told Metro. “You put a lot of hard work and effort into trying to build something bigger and better, and something that a lot of people can take part in, and then have it be stopped by red tape and all that.”

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From its modest beginnings in 2009, the group grew into notable DIY multimedia production studio for up-and-coming local bands, among them “Mean Creek” and “Dan Webb and the Spiders.” For the past six years it has run an annual music and arts festival.

In January, they plan to host a pair of benefit concerts – the first on Wednesday night at the Middle East in Cambridge, featuring a lineup of acts that have passed through Starlab’s doors over its history, headlined by Boston outfits “CreaturoS,” “Mini Dresses” and “The Dazies.” Find tickets here. A second one is scheduled for Jan. 29 at Bit Fest in Everett.

<p>Starlab’s leaders say their new landlord has kept them out of their studio since D|NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO” title=”|<image-caption></p>
<p>Starlab’s leaders say their new landlord has kept them out of their studio since D|NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO” /></p></div>
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<p>Starlab’s leaders said they were reluctant to get into the specifics about the legal issues with their landlord. And Metro was not able to get in touch with the building’s owner to ask about the buyer’s plans for the space.</p>
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But what is public now is that Starlab, since December, has been kept off the premises at their Somerville Ave. location, the fence outside its front door latched shut. Starlab’s lease doesn’t expire until 2019, Hawke said.

“Thoughwe are confident that this is a battle we can win, our expenses are adding up quickly and our resources are limited, especially with shuttered studio doors,” Starlab wrote in a message on a GoFundMe page.

The online fundraiser by Tuesday had raised close to $2,000.

This after they had lovingly built a home fitted with a control room, live performance space and common area, crafted by a studio designer for noise-blocking acoustics, Hawke said.

“It was an empty box,” he said. “We transformed it.”

<p>Starlab posted this look inside their studio to its Facebook page in September.</p|Facebook

But Union Square is changing, too.

Now twice the neighborhood Starlab has called home, it’s undergoing a massive redevelopment campaign with the promise in mind of a long-awaited subway connection.

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And in a story that has played out time and again, artists in Somerville worry that property-flipping developers could squeeze out the creative types — Starlab among them — that helped make the ‘Ville the coveted real estate that it is.

“Starlab Studios has been a tremendous asset to Somerville,” said Susan Berstler, director of two nonprofit art galleries in the city called Nave and Nave Annex. “It would be a huge loss if they had to leave.”

As an arts leader and a Somervillian of 30 years, Berstler said she has learned to only plan six months in advance, because there is no way of knowing how permanent her galleries will be. Her landlord, a patron of the arts, keeps her rent artificially low, she said. But that might not always be the case.

“The real estate speculation in Somerville tied to the Green Line Extension is insane,” she said. “The number of people who are getting pushed out of their rental properties is absolutely crazy.”

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