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Council OKs full $12M for creative space preservation, creation

Monday, March 11, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s creative leaders will have a full $12 million in bond money as their conceptual modeling clay later this month when the community begins to consider how best to protect Austin’s shrinking stock of arts spaces and music venues.

City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a slate of four resolutions related to funds approved by voters in November’s election, including an initial $500,000 appropriation from the $12 million for creative spaces. The vote also approved the release of:

  • $42 million for affordable housing
  • $3.7 million for library facility improvements
  • $28.1 million for museum facility and parkland improvements
  • $61.6 million for flood mitigation, open space and water quality protection
  • $600,000 for a new neighborhood public health facility
  • $7.8 million for emergency medical services station improvements
  • $1.6 million for fire station improvements
  • $5.1 million for transportation infrastructure improvements

Going into the meeting, proponents of the creative community expressed concerns that Council would only approve $500,000 toward space preservation this budget year, which wouldn’t go very far as land prices all over the city continue to climb, causing studios and performance spaces to suffer economically.

“Simply stated, $500,000 in a commercial property in this particular city is not going to accomplish much of the goals that the bond was proposed for,” said Stuart Sullivan, a member of the city’s Music Commission and owner of a local recording studio. “My understanding was that it was going to be for up-front property acquisition and that amount of money up front would not help us very much. The entire $12 million being released at once would allow us to have more options on how we approach this as well as to work quicker because a lot of the applicants … we’re seeing them leave and pass away now.”

Members of the music and arts commissions have expressed concern at recent meetings over the availability of the bond funds and the process to gather ideas for use of the money, with some thought that the city would need to be the owner – but not the operator – of any property that would receive funding.

As of now, an online survey and a joint meeting of the two commissions expected to take place in late March will be the primary forums for arts groups and the general public to offer their ideas on how to use the bond money. A working group from those commissions will pick the best options, which will need to be approved for funding by City Council.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who has made creative space preservation a policy priority in recent years, directed questions at Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart to confirm that Council can amend its budget to release the rest of the $12 million at any time. Hart also informed Council it could opt for a one-step request for proposal process in soliciting ideas for the bond money, rather than a two-step process that is more rigidly structured and required for large capital projects.

“The bottom line is having the ability to move forward and solicit ideas from the creative community for the full range of possibilities up to the $12 million, so we are not with the action we’re taking today limiting the ideas that we can get from them,” Kitchen said.

“When those ideas come back to Council, the Council will have to make some determination on what to proceed with. My intent is to not narrow the options that we can hear. As we heard, our arts and music communities are in dire straits and that’s one of the reasons why we moved forward with the bond and why the community supported the bond … because there is an imperative and urgent need for both preserving and developing creative spaces.”

Recent discussion at meetings of the music and arts commissions has been focused on allocating the bond money to existing arts groups at risk of losing their spaces. On Thursday, however, Mayor Steve Adler suggested that there should be consideration given to using the funds for more ambitious projects.

“Ultimately there will be competing needs,” he said.

“We need to hear from everybody on what could happen. I hope among the things being considered are big, grand things that would take advantage of having that much capital available. I hope if there’s direction or guidance to do something big or grand, or whatever level that might be, that as many people can compete in the community as possible. On the dais there could be different views on how that process should go or not go, but making very clear that the ideas we need to surface go from zero to $12 million.”

Photo by R.L. Cheng [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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