A sharply worded weekend editorial from Mayor Steve Adler characterized the challenges facing Austin’s creative industries as “a crisis,” and that likely bolstered attendance at a special meeting of the Austin Music Commission on Tuesday night.
“Austin can’t keep losing musicians, music venues, artists, and performance space and remain the city that we love,” Adler wrote in the piece published on the website Medium.
The music commission was called to discuss recommendations from the mayor’s Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus plan, a kitchen sink proposal loaded with ideas on how the city can aid Austin’s music and cultural arts communities, and the meeting room was packed to capacity shortly before the 6 p.m. start. Organizers set up an overflow room for the crowd of musicians, business and venue owners, and Austin music supporters.
The citizen-led commission, which advises the City Council, explored the broad range of issues in the omnibus plan, including dwindling access to affordable spaces where artists can live and work and ways to encourage cultural tourism. The commission recommended the council take immediate action on four low-cost ideas that could ease burdens for venue owners.
Those actions include simplifying permitting and licensing procedures for venues and creating a new entertainment license that might streamline the process. The panel also called for changes to city land use regulations to facilitate the development and preservation of creative spaces as well as adopting an “agent of change” principle in new development. Agent of change dictates new businesses moving into an area are bound by existing community standards, such as requiring a new condominium development built next to an existing live music venue to absorb the soundproofing burden.
Music venue owners and managers, who said their businesses tend to operate on thin margins, had a strong presence at the meeting.
Cody Cowan, general manager of the Mohawk, talked about the ways development has affected the 10-year-old Red River Street club. When a condo building opened across the street in 2010, Cowan said owners billed their property as a “quiet suburban” enclave in downtown Austin, which led to friction between the condo tenants and the club.
When the condo development changed management, Cowan said his club worked closely with its new leadership, who now use access to a “rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle” as a selling point. More recently, Cowan said his club has collaborated with two new hotels in the area, Hotel Indigo and the Hyatt. Cowan said the hotels have respected the agent-of-change principle and took measures to ensure their properties were soundproofed adequately.
The City Council will review the commission’s recommendations after council members return from their July break.