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What Will Austin’s Soundproofing Program Do For Downtown Clubs?

A band plays the Mohawk last year. Venues like the Mohawk may be eligible to participate in a soundproofing program for Downtown clubs.
A band plays the Mohawk last year. Venues like the Mohawk may be eligible to participate in a soundproofing program for Downtown clubs.

How much sound mitigation can you buy for $40,000?

That a question the Austin City Council is poised to consider this week, as they consider a resolution that would enact a sound mitigation case study at a music venue downtown. It’s a signal of the importance of music to the city’s economic and cultural health, but also a symptom of the growing pains downtown is entering as more people move into the city’s urban core – and how the two can often be at odds.

The resolution before council this Thursday, Item 14, calls to change the name of the Downtown Venue Relocation Program to the Music Venue Assistance Program, and “initiate, fund, and oversee a sound mitigation case study of a relevant music venue in an amount up to $40,000 from the Downtown Development Fund.”

“What we really want to do is keep as many venues downtown as we can, because you want a concentration of music venues in a relatively small place so it’s walkable,” says council member Bill Spelman, sponsor of Item 14.  

“That’s good for the music community, it’s good for each of the individual venues just to keep them concentrated if we can,” Spelman continues, adding “As we have more and more people moving downtown, the leaves more and more opportunities for people to complain about the noise. So what can we do to work with each of these individual venues.”

That’s what Item 14 would do, offering a $40,000 a loan to a venue for a soundproofing demonstration project. “We think $40,000 seems like a good chunk of change if you’re working with a pretty big venue. There’s a lot of things which we have figured out over the last couple years which we can do to work with a music venue to reduce the noise problem for the surrounding area. Ok, let’s find one [venue], and let’s see what you can do with $40,000.Do you want to put in a new speaker system, do you put in new windows?”

Should the pilot be successful, Spelman envisions the city fund the loan program for venue soundproofing at $750,000 annually. No club has yet been selected for the pilot, but Spelman says the city’s Music Program Manager Don Pitts will be working with stakeholders to develop an applicant pool.

This isn’t the first time growth in the urban core has butted up against live music. While area officials want to promote residential density downtown, they have to contend with the economic impact of the music scene and events like South by Southwest , which brought in$167 million last year.

Ironically, the roots of this new initiative can be traced to the city’s Downtown Venue Relocation Program, which was created in 1999 to help move a storied music venue. Liberty Lunch used to sit one block away from City Hall until it was closed to make way for new development.  In April of 1999, the council approved three resolutions creating and funding a “Music Venue Relocation Program,” and offered Liberty Lunch’s principals a $600,000 loan to relocate – plans which never panned out.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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