It’s the first night of South by Southwest and, if you ask those on Red River, it’s the biggest 9 days of the year. That’s because venues are allowed to play amplified music all day and into the early morning. The success of those extra hours is something a pilot program is aiming to bottle year-round.
The program started back in May and extends the operating hours for outdoor music, to create an opportunity for more revenue. The reason why this is important is because the cost of rising rent threatens to push many of the venues out, in a city that prides itself on local music.
“If we’re ever extending our musical culture, we usually come to Austin,” Esmie Vidales told KXAN, visiting from San Antonio. “There’s so many people like us that are out of town and we want to come here, we want to see the venues, we want to see the music, we want to see the environment.”
Data from a 6-month time period where venues were allowed to play amplified outdoor music an hour later on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday and comparing it to the year before, show ticket sales are up 6 percent, the money paid to staff is up 3 percent and the amount paid to local musicians is seeing a 5 percent increase.
“We also have seen a decrease in noise complaints and sound issues at the same time. So the program from our perspective has been a complete success,” Empire Control Room & Garage Owner Steve Sternschein told KXAN.
Sternschein says the program has brought some relief.
“We’re really close to the line every month. So that extra hour makes a really big difference,” he said.
The city also analyzed 8 months of mixed drink sales and found an 8 percent increase compared to the same time period from the year before, contributing to that revenue.
Still, Sternschein said there’s room to grow.
“There still another hour we could be open late and have more of an impact,” he said.
The memo did note an increase in crime in the Red River District, with the number of crimes reported going up by about 50 calls and number of crimes related to drugs and drug paraphernalia — up by 63 calls. That said, there is no proof the uptick is related to the pilot program. Austin police say the number reflects their ongoing efforts to fight drug use around the ARCH.
The Economic Development Department is expected to present an evaluation and recommendation to council April 12.
Given the update in this program, KXAN checked in on how the city’s Music Venue Assistance Program is going. It was created to support the local music industry by offering micro-loans to venues to enhance the sound quality but reduce the noise for neighbors. Friday, the Economic Development Department told KXAN it’s working to expand the program. Cheer Up Charlies, Stubb’s, One-2-One and the Parlor Room have all participated.
Cody Cowan, the general manager of Mohawk Austin, said the program has been an enormous success, citing:
- “Revenue: additional hours have meant additional bar sales during peak guest attendance times.
- Staff: additional hours have increased payroll opportunities to staff in the music venues.
- Local Artists: increased hours have demonstrated additional performances, as well as increased revenue for local artists 2016:2017.
- Compliance: the program has given venues the opportunity to show by way of math, that we adhere to decibel limits + curfews.
- Communication: the Pilot Program has created the first opportunity for neighborhood stakeholders, the Music Office & the RRMA to meet together, share perspectives, understand each others’ concerns & create solutions together. This has never happened before in Austin & we will continue to meet, even after the Pilot hours may be made permanent, to be proposed together by this group of stakeholders, hopefully at some time in the spring.”