Austin council extends Red River live music hours for a six-month test

4:31 p.m Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 Politics
Kelly West
People wait in line for a show at the Mohawk on Red River Street. A pilot program will allow music venues on Red River between Sixth and 12th streets to operate later.

A six-month pilot program will allow amplified music in the Red River Street entertainment district to play until midnight on Thursdays and 1 a.m. on weekends — an hour later than currently allowed — the Austin City Council agreed Thursday in a 9-1 vote with one abstention.

The final decision was a compromise from an initial proposal to extend the weekend hours until 1:30 a.m. for a year. Interim Police Chief Brian Manley asked to change the end time to 1 a.m. so that police could respond to crowds on Red River and get to Sixth Street by the time venues close there at 2 a.m. Council members decided to do that from May to November, and then decide whether to continue the later hours on Red River for another six months.

The goal is to get a sense of how much extra hours would help the struggling music venues or hurt the neighbors who complain about noise. The city will collect data on economic impact and complaints.

The topic brought out pleas from various stakeholders.

Hoteliers argued the move would hurt their business, saying they already receive too many complaints from guests about loud music at night.

“We still have an exorbitant amount of guest complaints (with music) going until midnight,” said Sunni Dupree, manager of Hotel Indigo. “To expand that to 1:30 would impact my business tremendously.”

She added that the hotels, while they built next to live music venues knowing there would be music, are seeing more and more corporate guests, who expect to get a good night’s sleep.

A couple of residents who live far north of the Red River Cultural District, which runs from Sixth to 12th Streets, said amplified music travels up Waller Creek and sounds as loud in their homes 30 blocks away as in the bars themselves. Understanding the science of those acoustics should come before any additional hours, they argued.

But bar owners and managers said the extended hours would greatly help their bottom line — and allow the city to collect data on noise complaints to better understand which areas are most affected.

“The pilot program will provide us the opportunity to create jobs, to create more opportunities for musicians, to address growing and untenable costs and to collect data to finally find solutions for some of the contentious issues,” said Cody Cowan, general manager of the Mohawk.

He said additional hours would translate into bigger crowds and up to 10 percent more revenue per month for venues. Ryan Garrett, general manager of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, said the program could help him add outdoor shows and greatly expand the workforce. Each show requires 65 workers, he said.

Staff members worked out the amended hours and timing over lunch with input from police, after council members expressed concerns that police hadn’t been part of earlier discussions.

Staffers said the ordinance intentionally left vague what data they would collect on noise issues so they could change it as they go, but said they have movable machines to measure noise levels. At the request of Council Member Alison Alter, the council added language to measure the direct benefit to musicians, venue employees and auxiliary personnel.

Some council members, including Jimmy Flannigan and Delia Garza, raised concerns about the program. Flannigan said he feared six months wasn’t enough time to get a full picture, especially since South by Southwest wouldn’t be part of that period. Garza said she feared it would yield no new information and make it more difficult to walk the hours back.

“It will come back as quality of life for neighbors versus the music industry, and there’s never going to be agreement on that,” she said.

Mayor Steve Adler responded that he hoped Garza was wrong, that this was the best chance to find out if there’s a better way to manage live music.

Ultimately, Garza abstained from approving the pilot program. Council Member Ora Houston opposed it.

“We started short-term rentals as a pilot,” she said. “Look where that got us.”

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