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Music Commission wants Council to ‘expedite’ Live Music Fund activation

Thursday, June 30, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The Music Commission plans to push City Council and staff to speed up the deployment of the Live Music Fund, which was approved by City Council in fall 2019 but is not scheduled to be distributed until next July.

At last week’s special meeting, commission Chair Anne-Charlotte Patterson said local musicians have been waiting years for the allocation of grants between $5,000 and $10,000 that could be used for creation and promotion of new concerts and festivals around the city. The delay is due mostly to the need for the city to hire an outside entity to handle the application process and awarding of the funds, as the Economic Development Department’s ongoing staff shortages make it unable to handle that program as well as similar Cultural Arts award programs.

After an update from EDD Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb that showed the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax funds have rebounded enough to put $4 million total in the Live Music Fund’s account, Patterson said the prospect of a coming national recession could limit the effectiveness of the program if it takes until mid-2023 to get awarded to musicians and event organizers.

“We have a lot of people in the community that are very interested in applying for the Live Music Fund and would like to see this money go out soon. The somewhat unfortunate part of this is that we still have over a year to wait, according to the current timeline,” she said. “As Council advisers I would like for us to reach out to Council and see if they can talk to the city manager and direct him to see if there’s a way to expedite this process. I feel bad for staff that you’ve developed a program that now has to wait so long.”

Patterson’s recommendation to formally ask Council to pursue ways to speed up the Live Music Fund’s deployment failed to pass on a 5-0 vote with one abstention. The item will be revisited at the July meeting when more commissioners are expected to attend.

The commission also revisited a recent proposal to ask the city to enter into an agreement with Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms, which would potentially greatly increase hotel tax receipts that help to fund music and arts programs throughout the city.

David King, a member of the Zoning and Platting Commission and frequent commenter on local policy matters, said the city should pursue an agreement similar to San Francisco’s where STR companies turn over information on new registrants to the city so they can become officially licensed and regulated. With Austin ranked as the third most popular city on Airbnb with nearly 14,000 active listings, King said a partnership would help with tax collections and enforcement of local rules concerning STRs.

“Austin can and should increase Hotel Occupancy Tax collections and improve compliance with short-term rental regulations. These two goals are not mutually exclusive and can be reached to the benefit of (STR) hosts and platforms, residents, taxpayers, tourists, music venues, bands and musicians,” he said.

Representatives from Airbnb have made appearances before the music and arts commissions in recent months. They’re making the case that the company could nearly triple hotel tax collections from STRS – up to $20 million per year – if the city would enter into an agreement taking it out of a long-standing legal gray area where many of its listed sites operate outside of the city’s formal STR permitting process.

The issue will be one of the main discussion items at a joint meeting of the arts and music commissions that will take place this summer.

Patterson said the interests of the STR platforms have been well represented in public discussion thus far, but said she and others need to hear from city staff about the current state of STR regulations and how any proposed agreements with the platform companies may work.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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