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Music Commission seeks city properties list, but who’s got it?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin’s Music Commission is making another push to have the city’s Office of Real Estate Services compile a list of city-owned properties that are currently unused and could be made available for creative groups and music venues that get priced out of their locations.

At Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Rick Carney brought up the fact that the commission and other groups of creative stakeholders have received little response or cooperation from the real estate staff in recent years when trying to obtain what has come to be known in those circles as “the list.”

The inquiry came during staff briefings, with Carney asking Music and Entertainment Division staff if it had ever received any response from other city departments about the property list.

“Has that ever been pushed forward anywhere to where we can get some information on that, because I know there’s a similar thing going on for the possible soccer stadium,” Carney said, referencing a resolution on Thursday’s City Council agenda that if approved would direct city staff to compile a list of city-owned land that could suit a large-capacity stadium for a proposed Major League Soccer franchise in Austin.

“We’ve been asking for this list for a while and I’d like to know whether we were told no, or they’re looking for it, or what,” Commissioner Graham Reynolds said. “It can’t be secret, right?”

The commission’s most recent request for the property list came in February with the news that the Rude Mechanicals theater group was being priced out of its longtime space in East Austin. Other groups including the Austin Music People lobbying group and the Austin Creative Alliance have also in recent years attempted to obtain information on what city properties are idle and could be utilized for creative use.

Kim McCarson, the economic and business liaison for the Music and Entertainment Division, said when she followed up on the February request she was told that the real estate office doesn’t have a list categorized based on what properties are unused or idle. She said another hurdle in the process after such a list was created would be determining the selection process for filling those spaces with displaced arts groups or other possible tenants.

Brian Block, entertainment services manager for the music division, said staff in his office and the Cultural Arts Division had recently given its response to a query from the city’s Redevelopment Division on the specific facilities needs for music and arts groups, but he was unclear on if that information would be forwarded to the real estate office.

John Riedie, CEO of the Austin Creative Alliance, said his group has attempted since at least 2011 to find out what city properties could be converted to creative space, and recalled multiple instances in his conversations with various city officials and staff where he’s seen them express frustration at their inability to get basic information on the city’s real estate assets.

“I suggest you each talk to your Council member, because Council members are frustrated about this too,” he said. “They also ask for this information and don’t get it, and it is my belief that there’s internal politics going on, with some sides having plans for specific properties and wanting to keep those properties off of any kind of list. It does seem like this should be publicly available information. It’s a deep-state bureaucratic mystery.”

The commission approved requests to have a representative from the city real estate office and a relevant representative from Travis County come to the December meeting to discuss how to obtain information on potentially available land or facilities.

Carney told the Austin Monitor the ultimate goal of obtaining the properties list is to help arts groups and other businesses who make up the cultural fabric of Austin but are being displaced or forced to close as property values in the downtown area continue to rise.

“If there’s space not being used I think we’d all like to know, because anything that lets us find a place for a theater group or an incubator club lets us provide jobs and income streams and help our culture, which needs to be protected like a natural resource,” he said. “(The list) has been requested for years by multiple entities, and if there’s public land out there that’s available we should be able to know what it’s being used for.”

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