Welcome to Austin, Soundcheck

Council approves sound company sublease at Austin Studios

Welcome to Austin, Soundcheck

It may have upset some of the self-appointed saviors of the local film community, but Austin Studios has a new tenant. This afternoon, city council approved a sublease agreement allowing Soundcheck Austin to move in to stage four.

Over the last week, council has done a lot of running around to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's on issues as diverse as property tax liability, fair market rent, utility bills and gauranteed local employment. With assurances set in contract, Austin Film Society (the non-profit which rents the 20 acre lot from the city and administers the studios) can now start the process of bringing in the Nashville-based firm.

A visibly relieved Director of Studio Operations Catherine Parrington said, "I'm really excited to say we have a new tenant." As well as providing regular rent that council has been assured far exceeds current revenue, having Soundcheck's equipment available for film productions could be a gamechanger for Austin Studios. She said, "I don't think there's any studio that has this in Texas, and I think we're taking our marks from our competitors on both sides of the map, from between what New York has and what LA has."

The proposal has attracted some controversy, which followed it through today's vote. It started as an item on the consent agenda and was pulled off for debate this morning because there were so many people who wanted to discuss it. The opponents, including Paul Alvarado Dykstra (of the abortive Villa Muse project and the much more successful Fantastic Fest) changed their tack from the initial "no way, no how" stance to a more moderate one of asking for more time, invoking the old Austin mantra of more transparency.

The only problem was that, after lengthy delays and a large amount of public consultation and city oversight, Soundcheck's management was getting sick of waiting. When Parrington told council that the deal was in danger if they had to wait another month, the opposition crowd booed and jeered. But they didn't have as much of a response when Soundcheck owner Ben Jumper took the mike and told them exactly the same thing. He'd still be interested in setting up shop in Austin, but it would be after another delay, and at another location.

Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 (only Chris Riley, ever the Boards-and-Commissions booster, voted nay, after proposing that it be sent via the Arts Commission for further citizen review). The majority echoed the sentiments of Mayor Lee Leffingwell that this would be "a stabilizing factor" for both the studio and the society, and that it will fit in with the long-term vision for the studio. Having looping and recording facilities, especially once the studio takes over the National Guard Armory next door in 2012, will create a more integrated facility. That's a big plus, especially since the latest iteration of the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program stresses a wide diversity of media, not just feature films. In fact, Jumper confirmed that his Nashville facility has just hosted the recording of Charlie Daniels' upcoming DVD of Bluegrass covers of Christmas standards.

Next step will be permitting, and after that it'll be about a ten-week build-out. Parrington said, "We've got everybody ready at the gate" to start construction, and added that she expected the facility open "before the holidays."

As for the delays to date, Jumper had a simple response. "Wow. Way different from Nashville."

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Austin Film Society, Austin Studios, City Council, Lee Leffingwell, Souncheck Austin, Paul Alvarado Dykstra, Ben Jumper, Catherine Parrington

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