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Mayor pitches plan to boost Austin’s music industry

Days after a report showed Austin lost more than 1,200 music industry jobs over a four-year span, city leaders unveiled a list of ideas Friday for helping reverse that troubling trend.

Mayor Steve Adler presented the six-page list that features more than 50 ideas to give the music industry a boost — including such proposals as encouraging venues to add a spot to customers’ bills for gratuities for musicians and creating land trusts to prevent music venues from being displaced.

Adler said he plans to introduce a resolution – backed by several City Council members – directing City Manager Marc Ott to review those ideas to see which ones are feasible. There’s no word yet on what it might cost to implement some or all of the ideas. As written, the resolution calls for Ott to complete his review within 90 days.

The council is scheduled to take up Adler’s resolution at its meeting next week.

In addition to job losses, the report commissioned by advocacy group Austin Music People and conducted by local economics research firm TXP Inc., also found that “year-round economic activity by local artists, venues and businesses” declined 15 percent over the same four-year span — falling from $856 million in 2010 to $726 million in 2014, the most recent year for which data were available.

The music industry’s total economic impact grew, though, from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion due to the strength of Austin’s “festival economy” — primarily the addition of a second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the addition of the Austin360 Amphitheater at Circuit of the Americas, the report said.

“The term ‘struggling musician’ has taken on a whole new meaning in Austin,” said Gavin Garcia, chairman of the Austin Music Commission. “The music industry is at a pivotal point.”

Adler said many of the ideas to help the music sector and other creative industries that he presented Friday have been in the works for a while now.

“We didn’t need another study to tell us Austin’s music industry is suffering under Austin’s affordability crisis,” Adler said. “The news that we have lost 1,200 jobs was sobering. We will not long be the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ if we lose musicians, if we lose music venues.”

The city’s list of ideas also calls for shifting permitting functions to other departments so Music Office employees can focus on other tasks and for tweaking zoning ordinances to allow for creative spaces on the first and second floors of some buildings.

Other ideas include creating roadshows to showcase Austin musicians, reviewing best practices from other music-focused cities and establishing one-stop hubs that offer resources and services musicians often need.

“Mayor Adler’s resolution lays out ideas that we’ve been needing for years and recognizes that a healthy and thriving arts community is necessary for a healthy and thriving city,” said Lulu Flores, chair of the Austin Arts Commission.

Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan told the American-Statesman the group was pleased to see Adler taking action.

“Austin music isn’t just a $1.8 billion economic engine, it’s part of the essential soul of our city,” she said. “The data in the Austin Music Industry Census, the AMP 2015 white paper and report card and AMP’s recently released economic impact study make the case that the time for the city to take action to protect, preserve and amplify Austin music is now. We are grateful for the mayor’s leadership on this issue and others impacting Austin’s creative sector and for bringing them to council for their attention and action.”

Co-sponsors of Adler’s resolution include City Council Members Kathie Tovo, Greg Casar and Sabino “Pio” Renteria.

“Austin wouldn’t be Austin without our local music and arts community, but we’re losing our artists because Austin is becoming too unaffordable,” Tovo said. “We’ve been making plans long enough. Now it’s time to make progress.”

Casar said his district, which covers part of North Austin, is one of the few remaining areas in the city where musicians and others in the creative sector can still afford to live. He said he hopes to keep it that way.

“This is about fighting for my friends,” he said. “Whether they’re a bar-back, a cook or the warm-up act, they like being able to live so close to downtown. It really is up to us to move forward. This is important to us, and we absolutely cannot let it go.”

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