The past few years haven’t been kind to downtown Austin music venues.
Some have been forced to relocate or close as rents rise and older buildings are razed to make way for new high-rises.
That’s certainly not the case, though, at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater. In fact, business is so brisk that the 5-year-old venue is doubling down on downtown Austin.
Next month, a second, smaller ACL-branded venue will debut in the same building that houses ACL Live.
That venue, to be called 3TEN ACL Live, will take over a ground-floor space across from Austin City Hall on Block 21, site of the W Austin Hotel and Residences. The building is owned by Austin-based developer Stratus Properties Inc., which owns ACL Live.
“The club business has been very challenging for a lot of folks lately,” Stratus Properties CEO Beau Armstrong said. “It’s gotten lots of attention. We believe the music scene is the heartbeat of the city, and we want to grow that. Live music is what put Austin on the map. It’d be a shame to lose that.”
Armstrong said he expects 3TEN will host about 200 concerts and events each year and will employ about 50 people.
“ACL Live has exceeded our expectations and our shareholders’ expectations – not just the music, but the private events, too,” Armstrong said. “It’s been great for everybody. That’s why 3TEN ACL Live is so important – to serve the demand for a smaller music venue and a smaller space for events and parties.”
With a capacity of about 350, 3TEN promises to be cozier than ACL Live, which can accommodate about 2,700 people. That means shows at 3TEN will have a more intimate feel – more like local PBS affiliate KLRU’s old “Austin City Limits” studio on the University of Texas campus, show executive producer Terry Lickona said.
“That’s the capacity of the original room – 350,” Lickona said. “The whole idea is to create an intimate listening environment. It’s all about the experience, the connection between the artist and the fan.”
‘A real need for this room’
For folks who’ve been to ACL Live, 3TEN will look, sound and feel awfully familiar. That’s by design. For its new project, Stratus chose many of the same companies it used to build ACL Live – the same designers, acoustics engineers and lighting experts.
“The quality of the sound and light and the fan experience – that’s what we care about. That’s our No. 1 goal,” ACL Live General Manager Colleen Fischer said.
“So many people have a frustrating experience when they go out to see live music,” said Jack McFadden, ACL Live’s senior talent buyer. “The sound at some places can be atrocious. We’re going to have the best-sounding club in the country.”
Fischer and McFadden said they envision musicians from all genres performing at 3TEN – sometimes before or after a show at the larger venue upstairs, other times on their own. Many will be local acts.
“This showcase room is going to be the place every local band wants to play,” Lickona said.
Many of the performers who play 3TEN will be up-and-comers who don’t have a large enough fan base yet to fill ACL Live. But, with a little exposure, the hope is that some will be back in a few years to record an episode of “Austin City Limits.”
“There’s nothing more exciting than watching them on the way up,” McFadden said. “Twenty-seven hundred is a lot of seats to fill. There’s a real need for this room. This room is going to be a steppingstone to the big room.”
A diverse mix of events has been booked, including several official South by Southwest showcases. Also booked already are Donavon Frankenreiter, Waterloo Revival, the Nightowls and Uncle Lucius. This summer, the Wine Down, a Second Street event featuring music and wine, will also move to 3TEN.
“‘Austin City Limits’ the TV show has always been about discovery,” Fischer said. “Terry has introduced a lot of bands to a lot of people. We’re going to continue that tradition.”
‘An excellent initiative’
The addition of 3TEN comes at a crucial time for the Second Street District.
An estimated $2 billion in projects — including the redevelopment of the former Green Water Treatment Plant and the Seaholm power plant — are under construction, with a hotel, offices for Google, apartments and condos all on the way.
“The timing is absolutely perfect with all the new development,” Armstrong said.
Those new projects, as they come online, will bring thousands more people — local residents and visitors — to the area.
“Stratus has been an early and strong city partner in downtown redevelopment,” said Kevin Johns, director of the city of Austin’s Economic Development Department. “Their latest partnership with KLRU is an excellent initiative — the listening room 3TEN is a much-needed addition to the Second Street District and the Austin live music scene overall. The venue is a great size and serves as a steppingstone for local talent to go from club scene to the large stage — a major issue identified in the music census released last year.”
KLRU officials say they hope to use the room for some station events, as well, strengthening the existing relationship the station has with Stratus.
“This lets more people see shows,” KLRU CEO Bill Stotesbery said. “My first thought was, ‘What a fabulous use of the space.’ Stratus has proven their ability to create a first-rate venue.”