Sixth Street’s plans could create a cushion for new incubator music venues

Monday May 23, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

While new mega-venues like the Moody Center (capacity 15,000) or the Moody Amphitheater (5,000) attract high-profile touring from established artists, the smaller clubs, seating 300 people or less, are often the most threatened by the heat of the real estate market, since rising rents meet profit margins that are typically around 4 percent. And in a city that promotes itself as a hotbed for incubating new artists, these small, vulnerable spaces are the ones most needed to preserve the city’s creative cultural fabric.

As plans for Dallas-based Stream Realty Partners to redesign the city’s Sixth Street entertainment district gain public attention, its messages of making creative spaces a priority in its plans could result in more These incubator-style clubs returning to the neighborhood this year have been an epicenter of the city’s music scene.

Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District, which contains the largest concentration of music venues in the city, said the company’s timing is beneficial given the need city leaders have recognized in preserving and nurturing creative spaces.

“One of the most important places in the music community is in the 300 or less capacity rooms because those are the places that are discovery spaces, where bands can branch out and we can get new Black Pumas. They are the ones who will matter most in the years to come,” he said.

“Large venues are in demand because they are part of a business plan that is not local but global. The 200 and 300 cap space isn’t where you see Bob Dylan or Kacey Musgraves perform… You have to have the places for talent that is unknown to make their mark. Those are the spaces that create the things that people see as funky or cool about culture as a whole.”

So far, Stream officials have said the city needs to raise the 45-foot height limit on lots it wants to rehabilitate, with the north side of the road between Neches and Sabine representing the most concentrated section of the more than 30 lots acquired over the past three years .

Caitlyn Ryan, Stream’s senior vice president and head of the Austin office, said the company’s top priority is to reduce the concentration of single-serving shot bars throughout the district and to expand restaurants, live music venues and art spaces introduce a can attract a more diverse customer base throughout the day and night. Art spaces on the ground floor among office and hotel uses are a common touchstone for the company in its presentations.

“Sixth Street doesn’t have a bar problem; it has a ratio issue,” Ryan said. “Now it’s only 90 percent bars and only 10 percent restaurants. If we can balance that out by adding a few more restaurants down there, and a few more live music concepts, a few more reasons for people to show up there Monday through Friday or anywhere during the day… we think that’s successful. ”

A code change to raise building heights would be the first step the city could take to advance Stream’s plans, with the extra height adding more occupancy revenue to cover refurbishment costs.

Matt Kwatinetz, managing partner of Q Partners, a consulting firm that has advised cities like Austin on creative space redevelopment projects, said Austin’s recently formed cultural fund could become an ownership partner on some of Stream’s projects and use public money to preserve the ground floor space for creatives Utilization and carefully vetted operators offer rental prices below the market price.

Other possible tools include the creation of an overlay neighborhood for Sixth Street and the Red River Cultural District that sets parameters, including incentives for incorporating creative spaces into new projects. The city could also use its business development agency to provide soft loans to developers, giving them lower borrowing costs in exchange for the public benefit of creating deed-restricted grants for creative spaces.

“It’s really important for someone, whether it’s a non-profit organization, the city or someone like the Cultural Foundation, to allow the market to do its thing in the parameters that preserve these cultural spaces. Someone has to defend and preserve them and the benefit is the increased value created by the other things because we know that attracting tourists and visitors creates other revenue. There needs to be protection for the companies that generate these other revenues,” Kwatinetz said. “It’s very hard to sustain a music scene with a venue. They need a cluster, and the city and property owners have an advantage if they do the right thing to maintain those clusters.”

Photo by vxla, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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