Tuesday, April 13, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

City sizes up options for creative space purchases with 2018 bonds

The city’s new economic development corporation will likely be able to purchase two music venue spaces and create a handful of shared facilities for creative arts groups using much of the $12 million voters approved in 2018 for creative space preservation.

City Council will hear from the leadership of the EDC at a future meeting, where the city will consider approving an interlocal agreement that would give permission to use funds such as the bond money or a recently approved allocation of city funds for so-called iconic music venues. Once the interlocal agreement is approved, EDC staff can begin the process of issuing a request for proposals that is expected to open up discussions with existing venue operators as well as those interested in managing a new property owned by the EDC.

Progress on the use of the creative space bond money was one of the main discussion items at this month’s Music Commission meeting, with consultant Matt Kwatinetz and interim EDC Director Veronica Briseño providing an update on the early work following the entity’s formal incorporation late last year.

Kwatinetz said research has been conducted of the most feasible owner and operator agreements that would allow arts groups to manage a property purchased through a cultural trust structure, with the goal of keeping the property from becoming developed for commercial or residential use in the long run.

“City ownership is on order to make sure at some future date 30 to 70 years in the future if an organization wants to trade off to a different space, or just go out of business, the spaces don’t become condos and they are permanently cultural spaces,” he said. “It will be like ownership in most cases, but we’ll also be protecting against gentrification and the loss of those spaces to the creative community.”

The EDC is looking for members to serve on a new cultural trust advisory committee that will provide guidance on how to make purchases and other decisions that best serve creative communities and meet the city’s equity requirements.

The issue of diversity and helping underserved communities was an ongoing concern for commission members and the public, with local organizer Anna Maciel pushing the city to use some of the creative bond money to fund the creation of a long-planned music hub at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

Maciel also pushed for using some of the money to make improvements to Parque Zaragoza, which has been identified as a potential performance and event space, but lacks electrical and other infrastructure.

“The bond proposal was made specifically to address historic inequity” in the creative community, she said. “I want to make sure that you’re inclusive of everyone, not just the people that you usually work with, because we have to address underserved and marginalized communities by creating an equity-driven process.”

In the past, advocates of the EDC had endorsed the heavy use of leverage to quickly convert the $12 million into a large portfolio of creative spaces. However, Kwatinetz said that the RFP process will be more geared toward creating conservative operator structures so established business as well as newcomers aren’t working under unrealistic lease agreements. He noted that creatively focused organizations tend to be historically fragile in a business sense.

“There will be two categories, with one of those being for organizations that have payments and are managing a venue by themselves, floating some amount of money already … in general they’re capable of carrying an entire venue themselves versus an organization that would be better off sharing a venue. We’re definitely not going to overburden anyone with leverage, but in cases where it’s possible to expand the amount of money and the amount of organizations that receive assistance, we’re going to do that.”

This story has been corrected to refelct that the date Council will hear the item has yet to be determined. Photo by Nora Zhang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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

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