ULI Austin News

June Breakfast Recap: Preserving Austin’s Live Music Venues

June Breakfast Series Recap: Preserving Austin’s Live Music Venues
June 28, 2017                                        Provided by Hahn Public Relations

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Moderator:  John McKinnerney, Castle Hill Partners and Chair of the TAP;


  • Cody Cowan, General Manager of the Mohawk;
  • Christine Maguire, Redevelopment Division Manager , City of Austin; and
  • Dan Wheelus, Attorney and executive advisory board member of the Texas Heritage Songwriter’s Association

Key Takeaways:

  • The local music scene has a $2.4 billion economic impact on the City; without these venues, the draw for events like SXSW or ACL would drop off; Austin won’t be the “live music capital of the world” if we don’t have live music.
  • Property values (and rents) on Red River will skyrocket because of the Waller Creek improvements; it will require incredible planning and direction to preserve Red River music venues.
  • The Red River Cultural District is part of the downtown of DNA and downtown is the heart of the community.
  • Before, the main question was how to keep Red River ‘crummy’ so rents would stay low; now, the main question is how do we make it nicer to attract more people; there are also new challenges like parking and safety; we need to fix sidewalks and deal with homeless issue; doing nothing and pretending it’s not an issue is not the answer.
  • This effort is getting the businesses within the District to talk to each other and on same page; before, it was more competitive with each venue keeping its heads low until recently
  • Following the ULI TAP report, the team has been trying to schedule a work session with the Austin City Council, but it hasn’t happened yet; the TAP team requests ULI members help by encouraging council members to conduct the work session
  • You can access the Red River Cultural District Technical Advisory Panel report on the ULI Austin website here.

Additional Notes:

This is not just about a series of real estate deals, it’s also an opportunity to save live music in Austin and the small venues that cater to local musicians

Saxon Pub was going to become a mid-rise condo project, but a benefactor saved it

If artists don’t have a venue, they don’t have a job

Red River has more outdoor venues than Sixth Street

The music business is a like a platform ecosystem; the Red River District is an incubator to get artists from point A to point B; the next venue is a slightly larger, more important launching pad, but it’s a very fragile ecosystem; it allows artists venues to grow from space to space and hone their skills, which then leads to opening of larger bands and performing at festivals

Other venues used to be in lower-rent areas: first it was Sixth Street, then Fourth Street, now Red River, which is currently in the flood plain; across the board, rent is rising everywhere

You have to raise money for the ballet, symphony, opera, we have to do the same for live music

The District asked the City to extend live music timing on weekends as pilot program – City Council agreed to it; an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays (days that cover payroll and rent)

Other cities like London and San Francisco are dealing with same issue; they are losing their venues because of cost (SoHo went from 17 to 6 venues); live music operates with very low margins; we have to plan the industry to keep it alive

The “Agent of Change” ordinance; protects a music venue from getting sued for loud noise, for example, if a hotel moves in next door; City staff brought forward agent of change ordinance for community feedback; there are also CodeNEXT recommendations to support Red River venues

One zoning idea: venue conservation easement option

A question from the audience: Why does it have to be Red River, why not some other place in the City? No longer affordable for performing arts – moving further away – how is pushing out to Kyle making Austin an inclusive economy?

Only one of the Red River venues, Continental Club, owns the property it operates on – so keeping live music venues on Red River remains tenuous

There’s no other place in Austin to move 13 venues

The Austin Neighborhood Council recognizes the need for live music venues but remains opposed to revised noise ordinance efforts

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