Live music is an essential part of Austin’s identity. The downtown music scene is a valuable Austin asset and one of the biggest downtown draws for tourists and locals alike.
Whenever a conference planner chooses Austin for an event, they typically need to sell the city to potential attendees as much as they need to sell the conference event. Time after time, they use the same hook: visit the Live Music Capital of the World.
Between SXSW. Austin City Limits, and the daily music shows throughout downtown, live music supposedly contributes $420 million in direct sales and $580 million in tourist revenue each year to the city economy. By the way, these numbers exclude all of the convention-goers drawn to the Live Music Capital of the World for a medical, education, technology or other non-music event — but who sign-up partly to experience Austin’s unique music scene.
The issue is that downtown land — especially land that can support high-rise development — is extremely limited. As a result, new retail, residential, and commercial buildings have been replacing older music venues. With scarce land, property values and property tax assessments have been skyrocketing, forcing landlords to raise rents on music venues. At the same time, musicians and the rest of the creative class have been increasingly pushed out of central Austin as rents have risen. As if that is not enough, some new downtown condo residents have been complaining about the noise created by music venues. The bottom-line, Austin’s music scene is under siege.
The Austin music scene is a fragile ecosystem. SXSW requires 50+ venues to keep the event in downtown Austin. As venues are lost, musicians have fewer places to work, and the music community shrinks making it more difficult to support new venues. Today, believe it or not, 20,000 Austin resident make a living in the music industry. If music gets forced out of downtown, the whole city will suffer.
The New Austin Music Hall
Fortunately, the city is looking closely at this situation. As part of a new cultural arts master plan, the city is looking at creating a downtown entertainment district covering sixth street, the red river area, and the warehouse district. Some private developers are also helping out. Novare, for example, helped to fund the redevelopment of Austin Music Hall when it began construction of the adjacent 360 project.
The next few years represent a critical opportunity for the city to permanently protect it’s status as the Live Music Capital. Otherwise, as downtown growth accelerates, one of the main draws for downtown living may itself be endangered.