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City study to examine ways to mitigate sound problems in venues

Monday, February 27, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The Music Commission intends to make the most of a directive – and a small Council bequest – to mitigate sound problems in downtown music venues.

 

The amount approved by Council last month, only $40,000, sounds paltry in comparison with some budget items. The money, which will be pulled out of the existing Downtown Venue Relocation Program, will be used to complete a sound mitigation study on a number of differing downtown venues.

 

Brainstorming already has led to a number of suggested solutions: noise canceling equipment; architectural barriers; and angled speakers. Already, Bose has been to town to test some of its newest speakers to see if would make an impact on live music venues. The results were mixed.

 

The program was discussed at the Music Commission’s February meeting. That small bequest must stretch to a number of solutions that might scale up at various clubs. The city has suggested a number of base requirements: an active outdoor music permit; having the same location for five years; and equal financial participation in whatever solutions are suggested.

 

City staff also suggested venues in good standing with the city, but members of the Music Commission expressed some doubts about that one. Venues with no sound violation complaints would not be the best candidates for help.

 

“I think we also need to consider frequency of performance, maybe patio speaker stuff, places that really impact the area. That’s really important,” Spies said. “And I do think live music is where we need to be focused.”

 

The places that have generated the most noise complaints appear to be located around the Warehouse and Sixth Street districts. Those probably ought to be the first places under consideration for sound mitigation, said commissioners.

 

Commissioner Joe Stallone said he wasn’t interested in seeing $40,000 cover simply one venue. Instead, he’d like to see at least three different sites where various sound mitigation measures were tried. Spies echoed those comments.

 

“I think we should look at a lot of different tactics, whether its architectural or sound system or whatever,” Spies said. “What would might be good in one area might not work so well in another. We need to isolate and analyze what works and what doesn’t work from a site-specific standpoint.”

 

Vice Chair Joah Spearman expressed concerns about the requirement that a club be in operation for five years. In areas like the Red River district, five years can seem like a lifetime and possibly diminish the number of candidates.

 

“That could turn 40 clubs into 8 we could consider,” Spearman said. “Maybe we need to go down and filter maybe three years instead of five.”

 

Commissioners, who expressed a preference for working with live music venues, were keenly aware that downtown’s venues were different, by location and construction and design, and expressed support for finding a number of venues, as different as possible, so that a wide variety of settings could benefit from the lessons learned during the sound mitigation case study.

 

What intrigued commissioners was a suggestion that corporate sponsorship actually might defray the cost even further. Bose’s new speakers, for instance, had their best impact on mid- and high-range music but not much improvement on bass. But if the company returned with an actual solution that worked, and it was willing to donate or discount equipment, the Red River District might actually be known as “Bose Alley” or “Bose sponsored,” a benefit to both venues and Bose.

 

Staff will return with a list of up to four venues to be considered for sound mitigation. Results from the study are due back to Council in six months.

 

If this study is successful, Council has agreed to put $100,000 a year, up to $750,000, to create a fund to support sound mitigation. The new fund and program have been dubbed the Music Venue Relocation Program, although it’s not clear that relocation would be the ultimate solution for noise complaints.

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, Council Member Laura Morrison continues to spearhead work on defining what might be required of downtown condominiums to be sound proofed against outside club noise. That will be a challenge to city staff, since most building codes concentrate on minimizing the sound that gets out from a condo unit, rather than the sound that gets in.

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