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Commissioners envision co-working space for musicians

Thursday, December 10, 2015 by Vicky Garza

The Music Commission would like City Council to consider creating a centrally located hub for the Austin music industry comparable to what Austin Studios is for the film industry.

The resolution discussed at the Music Commission’s Monday evening meeting is a response to the Austin Music Census, a survey of over 4,000 musicians conducted last year. According to the findings, 70 percent of respondents said it would be “extremely or strongly helpful” to have a music industry hub or building with affordable co-working space, meeting rooms and more. Additionally, the census also found that lack of affordable office space for rent is a critical issue, with 51 percent of respondents indicating that it has had an “extreme or strong impact” on them.

“This is a great proposal, and the city needs to invest in the music industry,” said Commissioner Toby Baker. Further, he said he wanted to make sure that the city doesn’t miss the opportunity to bring in technology companies as partners to help with funding, and he’d like to include a mechanism to reach out to those companies.

Commissioner Barbara Rappaport suggested that the commission could reach out to the Austin Technology Council for assistance.

In his first meeting, newly appointed Commissioner Graham Reynolds asked if the building will be owned by the city and run by a private organization, vice versa, or if there will be some other arrangement altogether.

Music and Entertainment Division Program Manager Don Pitts responded that the proposal is still in the very early stages, so they can still explore which model will work best, but “corporate participation is almost mandatory.” He said he has toured music industry hubs in other cities, many of which include some sort of public-private partnership.

Commissioner Elizabeth McQueen asked whether this centrally located co-working space will be one of many, considering that the music industry is dispersed throughout the city.

It is possible that it could be the first of several, said Pitts. He also clarified that the hub will be more of a business incubator, with affordable office space where people in the music industry can work with other creatives, not a recording space or a music venue. “I have an issue with using taxpayer dollars to compete with businesses that currently exist,” Pitts said; there are about 14 spaces in Austin that offer commercial recording rooms for rent.

Chairman Gavin Garcia said that he would like to model the hub after Austin Studios because of the success that it has had.

Austin Studios is a partnership between the city and the nonprofit organization Austin Film Society, with the city renting to AFS part of the land formerly occupied by the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport at a deeply discounted price. In turn, AFS operates the complex. According to Austin Studios’ website, since being founded in 2000, it has been home to more than 235 media productions – including over 80 feature films and television shows – which have had an economic impact of $1.35 billion on the Austin economy and created more than 8,000 jobs for residents.

Before voting on the resolution, Rappaport asked to reword it to be inclusive of Austin’s diverse music community. Several representatives from Austin’s Tejano community, including the Tejano Music Coalition and the Tejano Music Alliance of Texas, had spoken at the start of the meeting to voice their concerns about feeling overlooked by the city and the Austin music community.

The commission voted 7-0, with commissioners Buddy Quaid and Homer Hill absent, to approve the reworded resolution to send to Council in the next few months.

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