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Music Commission’s ‘hub’ concept prompts request for $15M bond increase

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The Austin Music Commission is asking City Council to add $15 million to November’s bond package to buy or build property that could be used as a music hub to support the city’s flagging music industry.

At Monday’s meeting the commission voted 8-0 to approve a recommendation that points to the need for a facility including recording and production spaces, live performance venues and other uses that could “act as the epicenter of the city’s music community.”

The recommendation argues a music hub akin to those that exist in some forms in Chicago and Nashville would act as a stimulus for capital development and economic opportunity in the Austin music community, meeting some of the criteria contained in the city’s Music & Creative Ecosystem Omnibus that was passed in 2016 to help Austin musicians keep from being priced out of the city.

The Music Commission’s action is a parallel request to that of the city’s Arts Commission, which last month voted to ask City Council to add $25 million to the bond package to pay for the creation of a 50,000-square-foot “adaptive reuse” space to serve local artists – including musicians – who are quickly losing rehearsal and performance space around the city.

Much of Monday’s meeting saw commissioners discussing the space issue with Arts Commission Chair Lulu Flores and weighing whether the two recommendations should be merged into one request for additional funding, and what form the final building or buildings would take.

Both requests would likely come in addition to the $67 million in bond money for improvements to existing cultural centers recommended by the city’s bond advisory task force. City Council has the ultimate say in the size and composition of the package that will go before voters, with the total recommended package of capital building projects totaling $851 million.

“There’s really been a crisis of space over the last two years, as well as with music you’re losing venues and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have performance space,” Flores said. “It might be good to join forces and work together to come up with an amount to include, and figure out the dedication of some space for recording in a multi-use facility.”

Flores and members of the commission discussed the short timetable for getting a request in front of Council members, with related efforts like Ann Kitchen’s push to create a land trust with property dedicated to creative use moving forward as well.

“This gets us into the discussion of what happens with the bond, which is a very quickly happening discussion,” Commissioner Graham Reynolds said. “We’d pass this and then we’d all get together (with the Arts Commission). I don’t know if we have to determine tonight if this is one building or two buildings. There’s a desire to team up for an ask for part of that as a music hub and part of it as a creative ecosystem hub.”

If the requests from the two commissions remain separate that would mean asking Council members for an extra $40 million in funding for creative spaces, with the advisory board of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center also asking for $25 million more than the $15 million recommended by the bond advisory task force.

Commissioners Elizabeth McQueen and Oren Rosenthal expressed concern over the logistics of creating and operating a new facility, and whether enough Council members will be in favor of increasing the bond package enough to pay for one or more creative centers.

Reynolds and Chair Gavin Garcia said those details will need to be discussed in the coming weeks, with the growing space needs for all artists creating urgency to move ahead with the request.

“The hub would be part of the music industry’s needs,” Garcia said. “We don’t have a focal point. There is no epicenter for the music industry in the city and it’s created challenges because we’re so disparate.”

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