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LBJ students eye AEDC’s future as deals for city-funded creative spaces proceed

Thursday, May 4, 2023 by Chad Swiatecki

A study of possible growth scenarios for the Austin Economic Development Corporation sees the quasi-public entity as the primary resource for helping to grow local arts organizations while also increasing collaborations between those groups and local developers.

A recent report by students from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas looked at other similar entities in the U.S., England and Australia to determine best practices and the steps the AEDC can take in the coming years to reach its goals of equitable development. City Council formed the long-discussed entity in 2020 to serve as a tool for carrying out real estate deals related to city goals such as preserving creative spaces in the midst of an ongoing real estate boom.

The students identified four goals for AEDC’s cultural trust initiative: creating a future-oriented vision that includes diverse funding sources, fostering self-sustaining creative organizations with resources such as real estate training and networking, facilitating collaboration within the creative community including place-based partnerships, and promoting the value of creatives in Austin.

At Monday’s Music Commission meeting, Anne Gatling Haynes, chief transaction officer for AEDC, said the study backed up the feeling within the organization that building relationships and providing technical assistance to local arts organizations has delivered positive results quickly.

“In the last year and a half the value has really come from two things; one is coordination and connection with developers on the front end as they’re building out new (creative) space that is mission critical in a city like Austin. The other was providing additional technical assistance and resources for those organizations,” she said, adding that grant writing and guidance on leases and other real estate agreements have been especially beneficial.

Haynes also gave an update on AEDC’s progress in closing the remaining 12 creative space deals selected from an initial 45 proposals. The AEDC has $19.4 million in funding available to help secure or open new creative spaces and music venues.

Two spaces were announced late last year as recipients of that funding, with the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex receiving $400,000 to make upgrades to the facility to support film and cinematic uses as well as general use by creative organizations. Another $2 million was committed to transform more than 7,000 square feet of space in the city’s Permitting and Development Center – on Highland Mall Boulevard and Middle Fiskville Road – into an exhibition and studio space for visual arts. Haynes said she expects to have news about the design process for that space within the next month, and hopes details about other new creative space deals can be announced “as soon as possible.”

In response to questions about the goals and vision for the 11th Street corridor that AEDC is also overseeing – an area designated by Council as an African American Cultural Heritage District – Haynes said there is widespread agreement that cultural spaces such as Kenny Dorham’s Backyard need to be prioritized as part of the forthcoming request for proposals process that will select the developer teams for blocks 16 and 18.

Outlines for the RFP process suggest the redevelopment of the largely vacant two blocks will include 30,000 square feet of creative space, more than 100 residential units and a combination of restaurants and office space that could also serve local creatives.

“It is intended that the RFP will include a cultural venue … as a requirement for the proposals that would come from the developer. It has been important from day one that cultural uses and activities stay in that district.”

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