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Music Commission gives support to East Austin arts hub

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The Music Commission gave its approval Monday to a request for support from Mosaic Sound Collective, an East Austin project that has been proposed as a future hub of music and jobs for Austin musicians.

Mosaic organizers are currently preparing a rezoning request from office space to mixed-use commercial that could allow it to open a venue space and serve liquor on-site in addition to hosting an array of other uses. They sought the (largely symbolic) support from the commission for the project, which they got in a 9-0 vote.

The project on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. near 183 has been pitched for the past two years as a one-stop solution to the affordability and revenue generation problems that have increasingly plagued Austin musicians in recent years. Under its current zoning, the 25,000-square-foot dormitory-style building hosts a handful of tenants using it for recording and artist studio and rehearsal space.

Promotional materials describe Mosaic as a hybrid charity and nonprofit operation, combining education and community engagement programs with performance space, co-working space, a music tech incubator, rehearsal studios, a mastering suite, streaming video company, screen printing facilities, vinyl manufacturing, food and beverage service, and the eventual addition of affordable housing, with the expectation of employing 150 people.

“We hope to get the zoning happening within 30 days, because we want to move things forward as fast as we can,” co-founder Curse Mackey told the Austin Monitor. “Right now there’s thousands of dollars going out for a zoning consultant to help us navigate the planning process properly.”

Mackey said the project has investors waiting on the rezoning approval to contribute money toward its full operation, with $4 million as the goal to complete its purchase, renovation and launch budget. The group has also received help from the city’s Economic Development Department to explore and pursue federal jobs training and other funding.

Commissioners were supportive of the project’s goals – some of them have toured the facility recently – and see the need for services to assist Austin musicians.

There was some questioning of the group’s interaction and feedback with the surrounding neighborhood, with neighbors from the nearby Heritage Village neighborhood speaking in support of the effort.

Commissioners also stressed that the support of District 1 Council Member Ora Houston will be important to any eventual rezoning.

“I like the possibilities with manufacturing and educational opportunities, but the issue is making sure that the residents are on board,” Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said. “From what I’ve seen you’ve been doing that, but the people of Distirct 1 need to make their voices heard through official channels.”

The organizers said they recently met Houston’s staff members to deliver an update on the project, but on Tuesday Houston’s policy aide Genoveva Rodriguez said that Houston has not yet made a decision on whether she would support the project.

If Mosaic is approved and able to expand its operations it would join the long-gestating thinkEAST development nearby in seeking to house and offer economic opportunities for Austin’s creative class, which has been increasingly marginalized and displaced as the city has grown.

If the new zoning is not approved then the project’s fate is unclear, since the change opens up many of the revenue streams needed to keep it afloat financially.

“We want to have the revenue streams we’ve talked about so we can be not in fundraising mode all the time,” co-founder Dan Redman told the commission. “We’ve been working on this property a number of years, and we want it to be a YMCA-like center where education is at the center of the project.”

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