- By Shonda Novak American-Statesman Staff
Is Threadgill’s closing?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Owner Eddie Wilson said rising property taxes, rent and insurance totaling $38,000 a month – a more than 500 percent increase in the past five years, he said — have made it difficult to keep open his Threadgill’s World Headquarters restaurant and concert venue just south of downtown.
Wilson said Monday that if circumstances don’t change, he expects to close the venue sometime after the SXSW music festival in March. He previously made similar comments in an interview with the Austin Chronicle.
However, Wilson also told the American-Statesman on Monday that he continues to look for ways to keep Threadgill’s open. “I’m going to refuse to quit fighting,” he said.
For some, Wilson’s dilemma underscores the city’s mounting affordability concerns that are affecting musicians and those who operate concert venues in the Live Music Capital of the World.
Wilson and his two restaurants — the original location is on North Lamar Boulevard — are institutions in Austin. Wilson said he is operating his downtown-area location on a month-to-month lease with members of the Moton Crockett Jr. family who own the property at West Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road.
“I haven’t made any money in quite some time down there,” said Wilson, 74. He said Threadgill’s has revenue of about $4 million a year, and said sales have been flat in recent years. As Austin’s real estate market has heated up, “Crockett told me the property has gotten much too valuable to be supported by meatloaf and chicken fried steak,” Wilson said.
But Threadgill’s fate is not sealed — at least not yet.
Over the weekend, Wilson said a longtime Threadgill’s regular – public affairs consultant Mike Kelly — offered to see what can be done to help keep the business open.
“He asked permission to do whatever needed to be done to keep Threadgill’s there,” Wilson said. “It could take someone buying the real estate and reducing my monthly cost of being there.” Wilson said he’s also open to selling the Threadgill’s business.
Kelly said he’s trying to find a solution that would keep the restaurant and music venue open. He said he already has approached two elected officials who are on board to help.
In addition, Kelly said he has spoken with two real estate investors “who have an interest in music” and who are interested in possibly buying or leasing the Threadgill’s property, and have the money to do so.
“It’s people who see the value in developing cooperatively with music venues,” Kelly said, without identifying the investors.
What isn’t known yet, Kelly said, “is what the landowner needs” to make a deal work. “We haven’t identified that yet.”
Jack Burton, executive vice president of Crockett Properties Inc., said Monday that the Crockett family “is not open to a sale or lease of the property.”
In an interview Friday, Burton stressed that the Crockett family doesn’t want to see Wilson and Threadgill’s go away. The restaurant has been at the Riverside location since 1996, near the site of Wilson’s famed concert hall, the Armadillo World Headquarters, which closed in 1980.
While the Crockett family does not disclose details about leases or negotiations, Burton said the Crockett family “loves Eddie Wilson and continues to enjoy a warm relationship with Eddie Wilson and his family, and we intend to enjoy it for many years to come. We like him as a tenant and look forward to him being a tenant for many years.”
Wilson said the Crockett family has been a good landlord and “desperately want me there, but not enough to offer me any concessions on the rent.”
Kelly said Wilson’s situation highlights the issue of “how can we keep live music going in Austin” amid rising real estate prices and property taxes.
“The ‘Music Capital of the World’ has gotten real expensive, and we have to come up with a policy that allows us to support one of our core industries, and we haven’t done it yet,” Kelly said. “How do we support a local industry that does not provide enough income to operate the local venues?
Wilson said he has no plans to close his smaller Lamar location. He said he has about 100 employees between the two locations, most of whom work at the Riverside restaurant.
Kelly said that while change is inevitable, “there is no reason that Austin can’t grow and include Threadgill’s.”
Kelly cited examples of new developments in recent years that have incorporated landmark local venues, such as the big apartment complex that was built around the Broken Spoke in South Austin. That’s one scenario that could play out with Threadgill’s, Kelly said.
“There is a successful solution to this problem,” Kelly said. “I’m not exactly sure what it is yet, but I am certain it is there.”