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Unclear regulations and development top music venue concerns

Monday, December 18, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Thursday’s summit with music venue owners and operators saw a bit of political scheduling serendipity.

Among the many issues discussed by them and other music community stakeholders was the fact that that afternoon City Council was set to consider a resolution that could impact their bottom lines on one of the busiest nights of the year.

The resolution was a formal approval to allow a later outdoor music curfew on New Year’s Eve for outdoor music venues downtown, an apparent first that was drawing some concern from a group of neighborhood activists who have begun to push for a lowering of the allowed decibel level for outdoor clubs.

“For every New Year’s Eve party that’s happened up until now there’s been no permitting and every one of us have been in violation if it’s outdoors and can be heard by the public,” said Cody Cowan, general manager of the Mohawk nightclub, while urging his colleagues to attend the Council meeting after the summit dismissed. “New Year’s Eve celebrations have been happening since the Roman calendar of 713 B.C., so we should really get our (expletive) together. The party’s happening and it’s not going to be shut down.”

Council ended up approving the noise curfew extension for Dec. 31, removing one potential worry from the long list generated by the roughly 30 participants who attended the gathering organized by the city’s Music and Entertainment Division.

Those problem areas included often-heard issues such as safety around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, friction with nearby homes and hotels, confusion over city regulations, generating revenue for clubs and musicians, and the parking and transportation concerns that can act as an impediment for would-be concertgoers.

John Price, CEO of the tech company Vast, said inexperienced venue owners almost always need some hand-holding and guidance from the city about the regulations and issues surrounding event spaces and music venues. Price recently purchased leased the former La Zona Rosa concert hall downtown, which has been renamed LZR and also serves as office space for his company, and he said he ran into a gantlet of delays and unexpected rules when he was getting the space up and running.

“The biggest thing you can do for us is communicate what you can do,” Price said to music division staff. “Start with that, so we don’t have to keep coming to you guys and asking, ‘Can we do this?’ and ‘Is this OK?’ It literally would help if you guys could say, ‘This is what you can do there.’”

Over the past year the city has worked to commit more staff and resources to live music issues and industry growth including an expansion of a loan program to cover capital improvements for venues and an attempt to draw clear expectations of sound tolerance between clubs and nearby residential buildings and hotels.

Erica Shamaly, director of the music division, said a new ombudsman role in her office will give club operators someone on their side to help mediate obstacles with city government, and she said an important goal for 2018 is to build awareness of how the office can work with clubs to make them more stable.

“It’s really important everyone knows what services are available to them, and we also need to know what their needs are,” she said. “There’s a history of frustration that any group has when you’re trying to get things done, and when you’re working in a governmental structure things can take longer. Our goal is to do everything we can to see change happen as soon as possible, and making people realize that we are working on a lot of different program needs.”

Photo by Nev Brown made available through a Creative Commons license.

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