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Music omnibus advances as venues await agent of change, licensing moves

Monday, April 17, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is touring its early progress in enacting pieces of the Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus, a slate of actions designed to protect Austin creatives and venues from further eroding under development pressure. Presentations to the city’s Arts and Music commissions and other groups come as a related effort to draw expectations for developers and music venues moves toward adoption later this spring.

In an early April memo, the Economic Development Department lays out what’s been done and what is in the works in areas of artist revenue enhancement, funding for arts groups in crisis, and hiring staff to work with venues on sound and other issues.

The revenue development piece will utilize $75,000 split into two contracts; one for the authors of the Indie Band Survival Guide to create multimedia educational content for artists, and another contract that will be bid out in August to a local company to develop the website for the content. The platform is expected to be operational by February 2018.

The crisis venue piece will make $200,000 available to nonprofit arts groups facing aggressive rent increases or other issues that threaten to force them from their home venues. The money will most likely be allocated on a competitive grant basis, though that process is still being determined and will need City Council approval.

Hiring for the entertainment services group within the Music and Entertainment Division took a step forward with the announcement of Brian Block taking the position as manager of that group. Block, who previously worked in the Parks and Recreation Department, will oversee the intersection of policy issues that affect venues such as sound levels, making him the main person steering the new pilot program for extended sound curfews on Red River Street.

He would also oversee implementation and execution of the proposed entertainment license for all music venues if that policy is adopted by Council. Block will also oversee one forthcoming position that will serve as a late-night liaison between the city and venues across the city, with that person being responsible for seeing helping to address venue issues before they reach a crisis point.

Those matters intersect with the looking action on the entertainment license and so-called “agent of change” policies, which would create standard sound and impact expectations for venues and residential or commercial developers as the city grows more crowded.

In a pair of meetings earlier this month, commissioners were guardedly optimistic about the agent of change policy because it will make new businesses that locate next to dissimilar uses responsible for reducing or safeguarding their impact on the area around them.

Viewed less favorably was the creation of an entertainment license for all music venues, which would place defined responsibilities for sound, crowd control and other behaviors on perhaps more than 100 businesses in Austin. Currently indoor venues need no license to operate primarily as a music venue, while outdoor venues are required to have a permit and file a sound impact plan.

Members of the Music Commission said they see little use to requiring a license for all music venues, unless that process creates benefits or incentives as part of the policy.

“The entertainment license might not be the right direction if there’s no benefit for the venues that are required to participate,” Commissioner Rick Carney said. “I like the idea of there being some kind of expedited permitting process because for new venues that process can be daunting. I look back to Randall and Donya Stockton needing two years to get Beerland up and open properly, when that should’ve taken far less time.”

Alex Lopez, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, said city staff is still assessing and gathering feedback on both agent of change and entertainment license proposals, and that both could change from their early draft form before being circulated to assorted boards and commissions ahead of a Council vote in the coming months.

Still of Austin Fan Fest courtesy of YouTube.

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