Neighbors concerned about ‘BYOB’ dance parties at Austin Roller Rink during pandemic

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — According to event advertising online, this will be the third Saturday night in a row for the BYOB “Kickin’ It Country Dance Night” held at Austin Roller Rink.

A Facebook page dedicated to the event, that’s being held at the south Austin skating rink on Menchaca Road, calls it a “dance event like no other in Texas.”

Ad posted on the event’s public Facebook page

The event info said there is no skating happening. A DJ takes over, and the skating rink turns into a dance floor on Saturday nights from 9 p.m to 2 a.m. for people ages 18 and up.

The recurring event has neighbors like Cynthia Rangel and Jennifer Minton scratching their heads wondering how a business can pull this off during a pandemic, while local and state orders limit group gatherings and have shut down bars and night clubs.

“It’s a real concern to us because number one: COVID,” said Minton. “They’re coming from all over, just to come to an enclosed building where it houses over 600 people dancing.”

Full disclosure: the two neighbors have expressed concerns about late night noise complaints at the roller rink pre-pandemic.

One online ad for last week’s party said, “We are limiting capacity to 600 but can hold way more than that.” That detail is not included in the ad for this Saturday’s event.

Rangel and Minton said the parking lot has been full on Saturday nights, and they have seen the partying pour into the parking lot where customers hang out and drink by their cars.

When KXAN reached out to Austin Roller Rink asking for more information about the parties, they said in a Facebook message:

“Austin Roller Rink is following all of the Governor’s orders and code enforcement has been out every day, and we have no issues. The real story is the harassment of local businesses.”

They did not expand on the initial comment or respond to requests for an interview. The dance parties are not included in official events listed on the roller rink’s website, which reopened for public skating in May, according to its website and Instagram posts.

The Austin Code Department said it has received 15 COVID-19 related complaints for the roller rink, and the enforcement team physically responded to the property 12 times — but not during the parties.

“The business was in compliance with face mask signage and social distancing requirements at the time of inspection,” said Isis Lopez, a public information officer for the code department.

Lopez said the ACD is responsible for ensuring proper signs are posted and checks to see if the staff is social distancing and wearing masks. If it is a complaint related to business occupancy limits, customers not social distancing or customers not wearing face masks, the complaint is referred to fire, police or public health.

Inspectors educate the business owners on the mayor’s orders and check to see if they meet the requirements. If not, the inspector follows up the next day to confirm compliance has been achieved.

The ACD’s current hours of operation are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. All service requests to 311 after 8 p.m. are referred to the police or fire departments until 7 a.m.

Austin Public Health said under the governor’s orders, skating rinks are permitted up to 50% of total listed occupancy. The order does not address whether or not a skating rink can rent its facility out to a third party, turn the rink into a dance floor, hire a DJ and operate similar to a night club.

Austin Roller Rink on Menchaca Road (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Under the state’s order, the skating rink must ensure at least six feet social distancing, and all employees and customers must wear a face covering wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another individual not in the same household.

The event details online say face coverings are required, and they are limiting groups to 10 or less and social distancing.

APH said if someone has a complaint regarding a business, they can report to it to 311 for review. 

Complaints to the city

Several viewers tell KXAN they’ve called 911, 311 and reached out to city council members with their concerns about the Saturday night dance parties at the skating rink.

The Austin Police Department said it responded to one group gathering complaint at the skating rink last Saturday at 10:22 p.m., and no arrests were made. It is unclear what police found when they arrived or if any orders were being violated.

KXAN reached out to every city council member to see if they have been contacted about the situation. Council member Kathie Tovo said she was contacted by one concerned constituent, and her office directed the complaint to the Austin Code Department.

KXAN also reached out to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has played an active role in inspecting businesses with alcohol permits to make sure they’re following state pandemic orders and regulations.

The agency said since Austin Roller Rink operates under a “BYOB model” and does not hold a TABC permit, the agency does not regulate it. They referred KXAN back to local law enforcement.

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