In the midst of a makeover

Studio J renovates second-floor space  to create event center

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Sather leads the construction project manager through the renovation area in the lower level of Studio J. The photography studio is continuing to do photo shoots in a back room of the studio while construction is under way on the studio and what will be known as The Loft at Studio J upstairs. (Gazette staff photo by Avery Cropp)

Judd Sather’s downtown Stillwater photography studio is getting a makeover.

The renovation encompasses both levels of the studio and has been underway for about a month. The goal is creating an event center above the studio that can be rented for a variety of events. The finished upstairs product will be called The Loft at Studio J while the downstairs area will remain a photography studio.

It has been rented for some smaller events in the past.

“When Judd started renting out the studio sessions, a lot of people asked if they could rent out the space and we started to have events there. When the city started to identify things that needed to be changed to update it and get it up to code to function as an event venue, we started making plans,” The Loft manager Jen McCormick said.

Sather said although renovation plans have been in the works for about two years, they spent the winter developing the business plan to benefit to the studio in the long run.

“Like Jen told us, it was time to take a deep breath and jump in,” Sather said.

The renovation takes place during the photography studio’s busiest time, but they continue to do three to five photo sessions a day and on the weekends, according to employee Josh Koosman.

“August is our busiest part of the year for photography and everybody is just teamed together so well to get the project finished. It’s really great,” McCormick said.

“Our timing couldn’t be any more perfect,” Sather added with a laugh.

Although a lot of time has been spent “getting all the ducks lined up,” according to Sather, the renovation has uncovered some interesting historical finds.

Koosman said they’ve found signatures on a wall from the 1920s, an antique toilet, lots of old square nails and tools and a horseshoe discovered in the ceiling. They hope to include some of the found items into the loft’s final design.

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The second-level of the studio will be renovated into what will be known as The Loft.

The 3,000-square-foot space can hold up to 300 people and includes a horseshoe-shaped bar, two restrooms, an elevator and a grand staircase installed just inside the studio entrance leading up to The Loft. Layout changes will also take place in the first-floor studio.

McCormick said once the project is finished, they’ll be able to handle everything from a fancy wedding to a child’s birthday party.

“A lot of people at the city, from my impression, are quite excited about it being located so close to downtown because it will bring a lot of business and it’ll be unlike any other venue here,” McCormick said. “Right now, we’re in the heart of the renovation project and there’s tons of interest already. We’ve had tons of people hear about it and want to rent it out for next May already.”

The goal is finishing the renovation in a month. Twenty events have already been set up, with the first event set for late September.

“It’ll be a wedding ceremony, reception, and photography all at this location and we’re hoping it will go really well around here,” Sather said. “We have ideas for pub crawl scavenger hunts with other local businesses to allow us to have a turnover time between all the events. And that will get people out and bring more business to the area. People who rent out the space can bring their catering in and with Marx and The Green Room right across the street it’s convenient for people.”

Currently, basic pricing for a non-wedding event starts at $350 while basic pricing for a wedding is $900. Discounts are given to wedding parties that have their photography and event through Studio J. The studio portion of the space can be rented, too. Those prices will likely go up after the renovation is complete.

Sather said they hope to be an open venue for food and alcohol in the future. Currently, people can bring their own caterers and alcohol, but the alcohol must be served by a licensed bartender.

“The pricing is very competitive if not low right now,” McCormick said. “People who are booking now are getting a discounted rate. If they have a good vision for the unique space they can be some of the first people in the space for the cheapest.”

Sather looks forward to the project’s completion.

“I’m excited about the buzz about it and the excitement that’s surrounding it right now and the fact that it’s taken a year to plan and we’re actually working on it is exciting too,” Sather said. “It’ll be nice to have a community space to have events and concerts, open mic nights, and acoustic shows. A lot of things can be done in an open space and it will be fun to see how it plays out.”

To keep up on the project’s progress, Sather said people can check out their Facebook page The Loft at Studio J or get more information at www.studiojloft.com.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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