Thursday, September 3, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Arts, Music Commission meeting aims to multiply $12M creative space bond

A joint meeting of the arts and music commissions expected to take place Sept. 11 could help multiply the dollar value of the city’s creative space bond using a new development entity.

The date for the meeting hasn’t been set, but its agenda will include an update on the request for information that is kicking off the process for using $12 million approved by voters in 2018 to preserve and create artistic spaces. Another planned agenda item will be a presentation on the city’s move to create an economic development corporation to enter into real estate and other business deals that align with city priorities.

Various members of City Council have pushed for the creation of the EDC since 2014, and a recent report by an outside consultant gave a broad scope of how the entity might be structured and what kinds of projects it could be used to accelerate.

One of those is the overall plan for the South Central Waterfront district along South Congress Avenue, but another priority discussed during last week’s session was the possibility of leveraging the $12 million for creative spaces into far more buying power to preserve and create more studios, venues and other arts spaces around the city. In his remarks promoting the EDC, Mayor Steve Adler said the body would be able to conduct business much faster than the city because of legal requirements governing city operations, and that the $12 million could be turned into $100 million if properly deployed.

The joint commission meeting won’t explicitly connect the two efforts, but members said they have questions about what could be possible given the complex rules over the bond money and the way the EDC can operate.

“It’s on a lot of people’s minds how those two things can work together and what the EDC can do in terms of other initiatives happening, but as of right now they’re all just possibilities and speculation. I want to know what’s real,” Arts Commission Chair Jaime Castillo said.

The city recently published a request for information for the bond money that is intended to solicit ideas and possible spaces or operators that could be paired up for partnerships that would also involve the city as a property owner. City staff and other stakeholders have said they hope to get those deals structured and signed within 12 months. Later this month City Council will take up the regulatory and incorporation documents for the EDC, with its work likely to begin by early 2021.

Castillo said he’d want to have input from other commissioners and the community about any move to slow the bond process so the EDC could participate and create development deals that would extend the reach of the money.

“That’s a conversation I’m willing to have with both the commission and the community. The loss of creative venue space has been ongoing for a number of years, so slowing that process down may not be beneficial in the short term,” he said. “I would prefer more input on that question because I don’t know how staff is defining the EDC and I need to understand it better to have a definitive opinion on that question.”

Rick Carney, chair of the Music Commission, said the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the need for rehearsal and other gathering spaces because of the need to social distance, though the financial reality facing those properties is still grim.

“It’s always going to be exciting to look at something to make that money go as far as it can because the need for creative spaces is far more than the $12 million bond,” he said. “If it’s just a matter of a couple months it’s probably better to be wise and to wait slightly. In the arts and creative sectors as far as performances and people getting together to work on material, that has been eliminated right now. The need is still really great but maybe that affords us a little bit of time.”

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

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