Music Venue Summit Today at 3pm

Club owners and city officials convene on permits and public safety

Fans lined up in the alley behind Licha’s Cantina after fire marshals emptied a SXSW-week Hum concert last year.
Fans lined up in the alley behind Licha’s Cantina after fire marshals emptied a SXSW-week Hum concert last year. (by Kevin Curtin)

The City of Austin strengthens its line of communication with club owners this afternoon at the first ever Music Venue Summit, presenting information about safety planning, loan programs, proposed permitting changes, and navigating ordinances and codes in preparation for spring festival season.

Open to the public but designed for bar owners and managers, the gathering was organized by Austin’s Music & Entertainment Division. Representatives from the police, fire, and Development Services departments will all be on hand with presentations. The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River Street, hosts today, 3-5pm.

Last April, with the din of South by Southwest still ringing in my ears, I reported on the scrutiny local music venue operators face from municipal departments tasked with upholding public safety. At times, the disconnect between the two entities proved stark.

To say AFD arrives in full force during SXSW is an understatement, for instance. They double their staff with two nine-inspector teams in addition to a special Public Assembly Code Enforcement squad. David Brietzke, Assistant Fire Marshal, told Playback his department makes two or three unannounced visits per bar/venue during SXSW. That’s as many or more than they make the other 51 weeks of the year.

Not surprisingly, that results in a major uptick in citations, generally relating to overcrowding violations, obstructed fire exits, and failure to display various permits. In 2014, 37% of overcrowding citations issued by AFD occurred during SXSW. Last year, citations during the festival doubled, with 26 venues incurring citations: 16 for overcrowding, four due to obstructed exits, four for lacking tent permits, and two for not presenting public assembly permits.

In something of a follow-up, last summer’s Austin Music Census found venue owners expressing frustration with the clarity, consistency, processing, and enforcement of permits. Today’s summit represents the city beginning to address those concerns through education and open conversation. Specific points of discussion at the “interactive presentation” include clarifying occupant load cards and sound ordinance rules, discussing a proposed entertainment license that would streamline permitting, and promoting the Music Venue Loan Program.

“This Summit is in direct response to the Census last year that indicated venue owners and managers claimed an inconsistency with city communication and enforcement as an issue for their business,” Don Pitts, manager of the Music & Entertainment Division, said in a statement. “We are happy to facilitate this event and conversation to ensure we offer information and solutions that are helpful for venue owners and managers as they prepare for the spring festival season.”

The necessity of code compliance for venues during the spring festival season has become so bluntly apparent that Playback was contacted by one local lawyer who in the coming months plans to focus on venues navigating code and permit issues. Their offices would file and maintain permits, “and in some cases be the point of contact between venue and enforcement agents.” Contact available upon request.

Today’s summit is free and open to the public, but you can also RSVP.

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Playback: Biggest Austin Music Stories of 2016
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Music Venue Summit, SXSW Music 2016, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, David Brietzke, Assistant Fire Marshal, Austin Music Census, Don Pitts, Music & Entertainment Division

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