Vacant downtown storefronts eyeing arts, music events to reverse economic downturn

Monday, May 20, 2024 By Chad Swiatecki

To bring more foot traffic to an area increasingly populated by vacant storefronts, the Downtown Austin Alliance is working to partner with local artists and musicians as well as property owners interested in exposing their spaces to new potential businesses.

So far, two spaces have been designated as participants in the Downtown Austin Space Revitalization Plan, which was announced last week at the Downtown Futures Summit, which included the release of the latest State of Downtown report. Construction activity and occupancy rates fell last year as high office building vacancies and higher interest rates drove up construction costs, the analysis showed.

DAA chief impact officer Jenell Moffett said the positive results from some short-term arts initiatives in the city center in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic showed the potential for longer-term plans to open event or residencies to the public in event spaces and other open areas. and open storefronts.

“We wanted to get as many different types of installations as possible — short-term installations, really — to show the depth and breadth of all the different things that can be done in these underutilized spaces,” she said. “In this pilot phase, we’re collecting data and we’re really trying to prove that activation is what brings the city center back to life.”

Moffitt said DAA currently has a strong potential space and list of interested activators and is evaluating potential matches. Sponsorship partners are also being recruited to help cover the estimated $1.5 million needed to prepare up to 10 spaces and provide compensation to artists or creative teams who occupy those spaces.

A third partner space is expected to be announced ahead of the June 13 Open House, which will help gauge overall interest from creatives, owners and potential sponsors.

Moffitt said the first activations will serve as a pilot program to collect data to show property owners how creative ideas will work with downtown spaces, an indication of how long the program is likely to last as a solution to downtown occupancy issues.

“We’re really trying to get as many people involved as possible in a short-term way, basically reintroducing them into the city center and letting them know there’s a place for you here. There’s a space for you here,” she said. “A lot of the activations you’re going to see are event-based. They’re going to be civic organizations. They’re going to have several conversations, panels, things of that nature. We’re going to invite artists and creative people to come in and share their art and talent .Musicians are popping up and doing different things in this way, and then we’re thinking, once we get a lot of these metrics in place and get enough financial support to expand the program, then by the spring, our vision is set. .

Local organizations that have expressed interest include the Alliance of Diverse Ethnic Chambers of Commerce and the Future Front.

Moffitt said the Downtown Austin Space Revitalization Project will take a fairly open-ended approach to activating spaces for engagement, with one potential model being a six-week residency for area visual artists prior to public exhibitions.

“The bottom line is that we are not over-prescribing anything if there is adequate funding. The ultimate goal is for all of these properties to be activated and occupied, either by us or by natural market conditions,” she said. “We want to make sure we step in when the market pauses, drops or isn’t performing as well as it was before. We want to make sure foot traffic stays strong and the city center remains vibrant.

Photo by Downtowngal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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