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City to host “Music Venue Summit” ahead of spring

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 by Tyler Whitson

In preparation for South by Southwest and other spring events, the city’s Music and Entertainment Division will host a two-hour “Music Venue Summit” on Jan. 25 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

The event will include city staff presentations about how venue owners and managers can best navigate the city’s regulatory landscape and potentially take advantage of its special business loan program for music venues. Staff will also discuss proposed changes to the city’s venue permitting processes, which may come in the form of an “entertainment license.”

Don Pitts, who manages the division, noted in a Tuesday press release that the summit is in “direct response to the (Austin) Music … Census released in June of last year that indicated venue owners and managers claimed an inconsistency with city communication and enforcement as an issue for their business.”

Jennifer Houlihan, executive director of the nonprofit Austin Music People, reacted to the announcement in an interview with the Austin Monitor on Tuesday.

“We’re grateful for the Music Office putting this together, because this is the kind of thing that was asked for in the census, this opportunity for music venues and music businesses to be better informed and have better communication with the city and all the rules that are changing or perhaps misunderstood or haven’t been effectively communicated,” said Houlihan.

“It’s a good first step, and we look forward to extensive and fruitful conversations,” Houlihan later added. “Two hours at the MACC is not going to solve the issues that were identified in the census, but it’s a good start.”

Pitts provided the Monitor with more details about staff’s goals on Tuesday. “We’re hoping to schedule these several times throughout the year to provide more consistent communication from city departments to the venue owners and managers and workers,” he said.

Reacting to Houlihan’s statement, Pitts said the summit is the “start of something larger.”

In addition to the loan program and entertainment license proposal, Pitts said, the discussion will tackle issues related to security and safety planning and the city’s sound ordinance and building capacity regulations.

The Austin Music Census – which was commissioned by the city and carried out by Titan Music Group – found that “to the extent the required permits could be identified, it appears that basic venue operating permits (without additional music permits) require contact with and approval from a minimum of seven different City departments.”

The census also identified 15 “basic nightlife establishment permits” that are required and up to four additional permits that may be required for music venues, depending on their needs.

“We’re looking forward to the event for two reasons,” Houlihan said. “One is to open those lines of communication so that venues have a better sense of what current policies are, and second (is) for the opportunity to weigh in on future policies.”

Houlihan listed the proposed establishment of an entertainment license to streamline the venue permitting process as one example. “We have put a lot of work into crafting that, but before we go too much further, we want to make sure that the venues’ interests are represented and that they feel good about it,” she said. “That’s one thing that can come out of this summit.”

The city’s Music Commission established a working group on Jan. 4 to discuss the idea of an entertainment license, one of several proposals that were considered in a stakeholder process initiated by the previous City Council in September 2014.

Economic Development Department Director Kevin Johns released a memo on July 17 outlining his recommendations based on that stakeholder process, and it is possible that Council will follow up on that report in the months ahead.

In his recommendation related to the establishment of an entertainment license, Johns also suggested that Council move the section of city code referring to amplified sound permits from the “Noise and Amplified Sound” chapter to the “Business Regulation” chapter, and that it “synchronize renewal periods and requirements for all venues.”

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