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Downtown panel tentatively OKs Stubb’s expansion

Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Plans to expand Stubb’s Bar-B-Q – including the construction of a 1,500-seat indoor concert venue – are in the formative stage but still managed to get a preliminary nod from the Downtown Commission at last night’s meeting.

 

Attorney Richard Suttle and architect Craig Nasso, a former member of the Downtown Commission, made the presentation. The final plan, which is intended to add between 40,000 and 45,000 square feet of space, will expand the restaurant and add an indoor venue for up and coming bands that are too big for the Red River District’s local clubs and too small for the Austin Music Hall or Erwin Center.

 

Suttle will be seeking a variance to the flood plain on the project, although developers expect the Waller Creek tunnel to pull the property out of the 25-year and 100-year flood plains. Questions about Waller Creek – such as erosion controls on the project and creek bank setbacks – went unanswered last night, although Suttle assured the commission that his client would ask for no variances on those matters and intended to meet or exceed all related city guidelines.

 

Right now, the maximum capacity at Stubb’s is 2,200 people. That will be expanded to a capacity of 3,500 people. Another 1,500 square feet will be devoted to the new two-story concert venue. The plan also will redirect the placement of the current amphitheater. Current acoustics – and sound from concerts bouncing off Waller Creek – mean that people as far north as 32nd Street can hear most of the venue’s concerts.

 

That is great if the band is good, Suttle said, and bad if the band is lousy.

 

The stage will be reoriented so the buildings around the venue wrap around it. Along with the acoustic improvements, it also will provide a wider viewing space.

 

What the Downtown Commission signed off on last night was the general concept of the project, plus a number of issues the project will address: the vacation of an alley; an offer to the city for a triangle of property near the Austin Police Department headquarters; and a zoning category of CBD-CURE to avoid additional parking requirements.

 

Developer Perry Lorenz was the first to jump on board, saying all venues downtown were landlocked, and it was unfair to set the Stubb’s venue up to higher standards than other clubs in the area. Suttle said the hours for Stubb’s concerts would allow the venue to work out agreements with other new development anticipated in the area.

 

“The traffic is already awful when it’s overcrowded. It’s in the middle of the entertainment district,” Lorenz said. “I just somehow can’t get too worried about hundreds of parking places when so many places are out of compliance. To set down requirements for parking on this site would really be arbitrary.”

 

Lorenz also noted that the alley that was being vacated – the Stubb’s facility already covers that portion of the alley – was “an alley to nowhere.”

 

Commissioners were comfortable to go that far. A number of commissioners – including Robert Knight and Jeb Boyt — were not willing to support the flood plain variance without some additional technical information on the property. Chair Stan Haas said the commission would welcome Suttle back as the project specifics were firmed up.

 

Daniel Leary of the Historic Landmark Commission did note the historic aspects of the property. The restaurant itself is not landmarked, Nasso said. The exterior, however, will not be altered. One stone outbuilding on the property, however, is potentially historic.

 

This is only the first of a number of commissions to review the Stubb’s expansion. Other commissions will be consulted, including the Music Commission, before the plan is taken to the Planning Commission for zoning variances.

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