Tuesday, July 28, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

City moving forward with plans for $12M to acquire space for artists, musicians

This week City Council is expected to consider an agreement with the Texas Facilities Commission that will begin the process of acquiring creative spaces around the city using a $12 million bond approved in 2018.

The interlocal agreement would approve up to $500,000 in funding toward consulting services with five groups, including Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services’ work in planning and releasing a request for information from property owners and potential operators of facilities. Other consultants involved in the agreement are Arup Advisory Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc., P3 Point Corporation and PFM Financial Advisors LLC.

The city is seeking outside help to broker potential partnerships, with a recent city memo spelling out that the consultants’ expertise “will enable city staff to expeditiously and more seamlessly match interested sites and landowners with potential facility operators.”

A May memo spelled out that stand-alone and mixed-use spaces would receive equal consideration for possible acquisition and specified some of the ownership and leasing scenarios the city could possibly enter into to meet the goal of creating spaces for local artists and musicians.

The request for information is expected to go public by mid-August.

Voters approved the bond proposal in 2018 as part of a larger package centered around improving city arts facilities and preserving creative spaces that are increasingly at risk of redevelopment or closure.

A working group made up of members of the arts and music commissions delivered recommendations last year that suggested the city focus on existing facilities rather than building new ones, with East Austin seen as the most important region of the city for arts preservation efforts.

Rick Carney, chair of the Music Commission, said he is glad to see the city moving forward with a process to deploy the bond money after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring turned most of city staff attention elsewhere. He said having consultants with experience in structuring public-private partnerships will help the city find appropriate projects to support.

“The idea is it could be one giant project, several small ones … it’s not set in stone with how it’s got to play out. Having someone in that process who is helping to nurture ideas is probably a good idea because there’s a lot of layers to how the recommendations were set up,” he said. “At this point it’s about finding the things that coalesce. If we can find compatible projects that will give this more mileage, I support what the city is thinking to have somebody come in to kind of connect the dots.”

Dan Redman, founder of the Mosaic Sound Collective arts and music space in East Austin, said the pandemic has created even more need for arts organizations to stabilize their ownership and partnership situations. In public hearings regarding the bond money, Redman has emphasized the versatility of the 25,000-square-foot space that sits on 2.5 acres and is intended to eventually include affordable housing for local artists.

“I’m open to anything and everything that helps move the ball forward, especially now since this has never been a money-making venture and it’s just trying to help the community and is more needed now than ever before,” he said. “What would be most important in my mind is what the actual output is and how many people a project really helps, rather than ‘Here’s an organization that needs money so let’s throw money at it.’ What is your community engagement? What is your youth engagement? How many people are you helping and how well will this money be spent?”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Arts Commission: The Arts Commission advises the Austin City Council in all arts-related matters, fosters the development of the arts, and promotes cooperation between the City and the public.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Music Commission: The Austin Music Commission guides city practices on music development issues, including the SxSW music festival.

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