KUT/KUTX Will No Longer Manage the Cactus Cafe

University radio station terminates “disheartening” negotiations

Ending a decade-long run, KUT/KUTX will no longer manage the Cactus Cafe. As reported by the Chronicle this month, the 10-year management agreement between UT’s University Unions division and the radio station expired last fall. The previous agreement, a “Memorandum of Understanding,” extended temporarily as discussions continued into 2021.

A rally for the Cactus Cafe on UT’s West Mall in 2010 before KUT/KUTX assumed control of the venue (Photo by John Anderson)

Multiple sources close to the issue confirm that KUT/KUTX is terminating its side of negotiations. The station also plans to end employment of longtime Cactus Manager Matt Muñoz and Assistant Manager Amy Chambless, both currently furloughed with reduced salaries, in the coming summer months. In all likelihood, the University Unions would thus regain management of the historic bar and venue, opened in 1979. In comment to the Chronicle earlier this month, a UT spokesperson said the school will maintain the space for musical use.

“The Cactus Cafe is beloved by alumni, students, and musicians, and it is a cherished part of the campus and Austin community,” said UT’s J.B. Bird in the statement. “While discussions are continuing internally on future bookings and operations, the university is committed to continuing musical programming at the Cactus Cafe for years to come, in keeping with the venue’s rich history.”

“We can no longer sustain an annual subsidy of the Cactus Cafe at the expense of our members and listeners.”

Sources close to the issue describe the delayed negotiations as “disheartening” and say the school “played hardball.” In a proposal presented to the University Unions Board of Directors in April, KUT/KUTX cited annual subsidies of $120,000 to support the Cactus. In order to increase revenues, the station requested profits from bar sales, which it did not receive under the 10-year agreement, as well as increased bookings in larger university spaces such as the Union Ballroom and Hogg Auditorium.

According to documents obtained by an open records request, the venue cost the station a total of $1.21 million over the decade of management. On April 4, KUT/KUTX General Manager Debbie Hiott emailed Moody College of Communication Dean Jay Bernhardt outlining the station’s requirements to reach a new Memorandum of Understanding. The document read:

“As we come off of pandemic-related revenue losses of more than $2 million in underwriting and events for our radio stations, and we face a sense of urgency to fill in local news needs in a growing community, we can no longer sustain an annual subsidy of the Cactus Cafe at the expense of our members and listeners.

“In order to achieve a break even position (we’re not trying to make money off the Cactus), we have some needs to achieve financial sustainability with an extension of our Memorandum of Understanding. Otherwise, we will have to relinquish booking and management of the Cactus Cafe to our partners at the Unions.”

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