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Curfew relief in sight for Red River music venues

Friday, October 7, 2016 by Chad Swiatecki

A handful of music venues along Red River Street between Sixth and 10th streets could soon have a later sound curfew for outdoor music.

On Monday, the Music Commission unanimously passed an item that venue owners and other music boosters hope will result in a pilot program to study the effect of allowing live music on outdoor stages after midnight on weekends, at the most profitable times for the businesses.

Commissioners discussed rough guidelines for the pilot program, with the motion on the issue calling for commissioners and city staff to draft a comprehensive motion for the Music Commission’s November meeting. That action will ask City Council to direct city staff to work with venues and others in the neighborhood to create a pilot program for up to 12 months during which venues in one of the city’s most vibrant music districts could run their shows later and drum up more revenue from liquor sales.

Currently, outdoor music in that area, which is known as the Red River Cultural District, is required to be cut off by 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, by 11 p.m. Thursday, and by midnight on Friday and Saturday.

The pilot program would seek to add about four more late-night hours for music per week during some of the clubs’ peak sales hours, said Cody Cowan, general manager of the Mohawk nightclub. Indoor music is allowed to continue until bars’ 2 a.m. closing time, but outdoor shows with large audiences account for about 80 percent of the monthly revenue for a venue with an outdoor stage, he said.

If implemented as discussed on Monday, the program would create later hours and more business for the outdoor stages at Mohawk, Cheer Up Charlies and Stubb’s on Red River Street, and possibly Empire Control Room and Barracuda on Seventh Street, depending on how the motion is worded.

Cowan said the addition of 16 hours of possible high-volume business per month would bring an average of $1,000 per hour into Mohawk’s registers, which he said would be enough to pay the business’ rent each month and help it add to a profit margin that is typically about 5 percent. According to data from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Mohawk generated just over $63,000 in alcohol revenue in August.

Its neighboring outdoor venue, Cheer Up Charlies, made more than $89,000, and Stubb’s made just over $102,000 from alcohol sales.

“This would be a game-changer because we’ve maximized our ability to earn revenue during the current business hours for outdoor music,” Cowan said. “We’re exploring other business models for things like earlier shows, but this alone would allow us to cover our rent monthly. It would take the pressure off the cooking pot that we’re all facing in terms of costs.”

Don Pitts, manager of the city’s Music & Entertainment Division, said the pilot program would be created temporarily to gather data on noise complaints and other effects that a possible permanent extension of outdoor music curfews could have on the surrounding area.

The exact hours of the pilot program would be determined by city staff, but Pitts said early feedback from the Austin Police Department suggested that a 1:30 a.m. cutoff would allow events to disperse prior to the rush of closing-time traffic from the nearby Sixth Street bar district. Pitts also said the Red River district had generated 17 total noise complaints in the past 12 months, which he considered in the “safe area” in terms of impact.

Commissioners, many of whom are musicians or have some professional involvement in music, were enthused about the move to help a cultural asset that is under increasing threat of development.

“This is the Alamo of our music industry, and if these venues aren’t preserved, then there will be nowhere for music to go,” Chair Gavin Garcia said.

Photo by Davidlohr Bueso made available through a Creative Commons license.

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