Arts, music commissioner hopes new convention center will support Austin’s creatives

Wednesday, July 10, 2024 By Chad Swiatecki

Members of the Music Committee and Arts Council put together a list of 31 recommendations detailing how the redeveloped Austin Convention Center can best support the local creative community.

Recommendations from the Urban Core Land Use Working Group, which includes two members from each council as well as development and events professionals, were originally scheduled to be discussed at last week’s Music Commission meeting, but were postponed until August due to time constraints.

The briefing document breaks down the proposals into five areas: vision and how the conference center will interact with the surrounding community; music space; art space; retail and other spaces; and financial and operational considerations.

Individual suggestions include allocating space for music performances and other events, recording studios, rehearsal spaces, display areas for local artists, outdoor stages and retail outlets to promote local merchandise.

Operationally, the group wants the city to use economic incentives and other financial tools to support creative tenants in the new convention center, which currently sees more than 300,000 annual visitors.

The task force began studying potential functions for the convention center more than a year ago, after the Music Commission recommended the city create an advisory committee for the estimated $1.6 billion redevelopment effort, but the City Council took no action.

Music Commissioner Anne-Charlotte Patterson said staff from a number of council offices and various city departments had expressed support for developing a list of suggestions focusing on how the facility could best showcase and support local creatives Community. While no formal action on the recommendations is expected in the short term, Patterson said members would be circulated to relevant designers, architects and planning professionals involved in the redevelopment. With the center set to close next spring as part of a four-year project, she said the task force hopes the planning and design process will include incorporating as much of the proposed space and infrastructure as possible.

“There is a plan in place, such as retaining the retail space on the ground floor and tilting it towards the creative community or cultural arts in some way, but there is not a complete plan yet,” she said. “There are concerns that if this particular type of “Some of the infrastructure of the space is not included in the plan, and then a lot of modifications have to be made, otherwise certain things may not be completed.”

The presentation did not take into account budget considerations for the many spaces considered for musicians and artists, although the project provided a broad financial standing using hotel occupancy tax funds, as most, if not all, of the proposals could be considered pro-tourism. industry, which is the main requirement of state law for these funds.

“I don’t understand why this can’t be part of the budget, but for the convention center, it’s supported by or almost entirely by the hotel occupancy tax. Some of that could be used to maintain these places once they’re built,” Patterson said.

There are some unknowns in the final design of the new convention center, including how pedestrians will interact with the space bounded by Fourth, Cesar Chavez, Trinity and Red River streets. For years, local hotel and convention industry leaders have wanted to expand the center westward to provide more exhibition and meeting space, which they believed was needed to attract significant bookings. A larger footprint would have allowed for more open ground floor areas to foster community interaction, but land acquisition negotiations for the effort have stalled, leading to plans to redevelop the facility in the existing space.

The project is also expected to include a hotel and multifamily housing as part of a public-private partnership.

Patterson said she hopes the recommendations will help inform planning for the area surrounding the new center.

“I would certainly like to have open spaces and green spaces that can be used not only by attendees but also by the public,” she said. “I think this creates a good synergy between attendees and Austin residents. It just creates a more enjoyable and open feeling.

Photo available under Creative Commons license.

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