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Don't call it a comeback (yet): New music venues could open up on East Sixth Street

"Live Music Capital of the World" is written on a boarded up window of a business.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Music venues and other businesses on East Sixth Street boarded up their windows as the city shut down early on in the pandemic.

A developer that owns multiple properties on East Sixth Street wants to revitalize the area and turn a handful of spots into music venues in a part of downtown that's seen other venues leave in recent years.

At a recent special meeting of the Austin Music Commission, Caitlyn Ryan laid out what she'd like to see in the area in the near future. Ryan is the vice president of Stream Realty, which owns several properties along East Sixth. She's also an Austinite, who says one of her many goals is "to bring Emo’s, in any way, shape or form" back downtown.

Chad Swiatecki wrote about the details of the proposal in a piece for the Austin Monitor. He says buildings like the former Easy Tiger location and Buffalo Billiards are among sites where Stream Realty would like to bring live music.

While the plans are still in development, he says it's a step in the right direction for an industry that's been devastated by the pandemic and coronavirus restrictions.

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.

KUT: Let's talk about this special called meeting of the Austin Music Commission to discuss plans for East Sixth Street. Tell us a little bit about the developer and what they envision?

Swiatecki: The company is called Stream Realty Partners. They're based out of Dallas, but they've got a very strong presence here in Austin and one of their senior vice presidents, Caitlyn Ryan, is an Austinite.

In recent years, they've purchased a little over 30 storefronts along Sixth Street, the entertainment district that we know so warmly is Dirty Sixth. They want to revitalize and remake that as some new uses — offices, hotels, kind of get some daytime usage going — and to bring some more music venues to the area that has kind of lost them gradually over the past decade.

How many music venues do they want to bring to the area, and which properties would they replace along East Sixth?

I don't think it's a firm number yet; there are just some details shared at the meeting last week of six potential sites. There could be more, I don't know. They showed all of their cards here, because obviously there's quite a bit of negotiating going on for leases and construction.

But they mentioned specifically the former Easy Tiger property could be the site of three restaurants that would include live music. The former Buffalo Billiards spot is going to become something called the Missouri House, which traces back to its opening as a lodging hall back in the early days of Austin.

You've got the former Dirty Dog, which was a metal bar, being eyed for a music venue. Then there is a kind of nondescript location given for something that would be kind of underground. When I say underground, I don't mean kind of fringe, I mean kind of literally a below-ground music venue.

There were six details given and then the senior VP for Stream Realty — who, as I said, is an Austinite — specifically said that she wants Emo's in some way, shape or form to return to the district. Emo's is one of the founding kind of independent rock clubs that left the area in 2011, so she wants to bring that back as well. So that's seven, I guess. I detailed six in my story, but you've got seven possibly there.

You said Stream Realty sort of laid all their cards out on the table and commissioners had questions about a few things, including promoting musical diversity among however many musical venues end up being in the area, as well as the surrounding businesses that would adjoin those venues. What were some of their concerns?

I think, you know, one is frankly just that the real estate prices are getting so high in Austin in general, especially downtown, that there's a concern of how viable music venues are. And their concern is: How are we going to make sure that these places remain stable, remain in place? That there's not just kind of constant churn coming and going of these places.

And then also there's the question of diversity, of getting people of color, women, lots of different underrepresented demographics operating or heavily involved in these places so that you get a greater variety of music and events happening. We all love the Saxon Pub and Stubb's and places like that, but I think we don't just want copycats of the old Austin that we know and love. Those days are kind of gone, so they want to see some new fresh ideas popping up wherever possible.

What are some things that we should watch for next?

Stream Realty has a code amendment underway with City Council that would increase the maximum height to right around whatever the Capitol view corridors allow along their stretch, which runs between Neches and Sabine Streets on the north side of Sixth Street. So that's the area you're going to really want to keep an eye on. It links up rather nicely with the Red River Cultural District just a little ways up, too.

So you're going to want to watch whatever happens with that code amendment. There's going to be some demolition permits, because they're going to have to do some reconstruction of some of those sites.

The Historic Landmark Commission and Preservation Austin are going to be pretty heavily involved because some of that area is historic, and they want to set some sort of design guidelines and other guidelines regarding the demolitions and preserving the historic character of the area. So those are some of the kind of turns of the screw that are going to happen as this thing will slowly move forward. But it is movement, which is something we've not seen for that district in quite some time, especially through the pandemic, when you had a lot of those places closed up and empty for a while now.

Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at jerry@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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