Red River Bars Can Play Outdoor Music Later Under 6-Month Pilot Program

Dec 28, 2016

Updated Jan. 26, 2017

Red River music venues will be permitted to host live outdoor music one hour later on weekends starting this May. The Austin City Council on Thursday approved a six-month pilot program to allow venues like Stubbs BBQ and Mohawk to have bands play until 1 a.m. weekends – instead of until midnight.

During the pilot period, the city will track noise complaints and the economic impact. At the end of the six months, council members will consider making the later music curfew permanent.

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It’s by design that night owls flock in certain parts of Austin.

“Our code currently allows venues within the Warehouse District and the Sixth Street Districts to have amplified sound until 2 a.m.,” said Deputy Director of the Economic Development Department Alex Lopez at a meeting of the Austin City Council’s Economic Opportunity Committee in early December.

City staff is currently considering a one-year pilot program to test out later music curfews in parts of Red River Street, affecting venues such as the Mohawk and Stubb’s BBQ. Currently, these venues are permitted to play amplified music until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a proposal like this sound extension program that could have as much of a positive impact,” said Stubb’s General Manager Ryan Garrett. He said a looser music curfew could allow his venue to host as many as 15 more shows in a year – and more shows mean more revenue.

“You bring in 15 extra shows, you’re looking at somewhere in the ballpark of 35,000 more patrons coming to the Red River Cultural District,” he said. “At an average ticket price of $28 to $35, you’re looking at over a million dollars in ticket revenue just by extending this program.”

But city staff said they are concerned by a rising number of noise complaints in the area, thought to be the product of more residential and hotel units built in and near the Red River District. In 2015, the city fielded 12 loud music complaints within 600 feet of Red River and 43 complaints within 1,500 feet of the district. In 2016, those numbers increased to 43 and 159, respectively.

“The issue at hand is balancing the interests of these business owners with the complaints we can still be seeing from businesses,” Lopez told council members.

One consequence of rising noise complaints is additional response needed from the Austin Police Department. City staff said they worry uniform music curfews across more venues could further strain the police. One option is to stagger the music curfews among the entertainment districts . Meaning, if Sixth Street bars can play outdoor music until 2 a.m., venues in the Red River District could go until 1 or 1:30 a.m.

“Communications and conversations I’ve had with APD, they were supportive of a staggered, like 1:00 or 1:30 [curfew],” said Don Pitts, who manages the city’s Music & Entertainment Division. “They said they would like to try 2 o’clock a couple weeks just to see if there was an impact.”

City staff has yet to nail down the specifics of this pilot program, but has planned to bring a finished proposal to the full city council at the end of January.