Faster Than Sound: Live Music Preservation Fund Pays 73 Venues

Ongoing funding under Phase 2 to begin in March.

Host with the Toast: Texan MC Fat Tony at Far Out Lounge on Nov. 6, 2020, during the sole release show for his album Exotica (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Phase 1 of the Austin Live Music Venue Preservation Fund distributed checks to 73 local music venues, according to an update from the Economic Development Department. The $20,000 payments accompanied the emergency funding phase of the program, which closed Jan. 11. The first stage accounts for over $1.4 million of the fund's total $5 million for concert hubs impacted by COVID-19.

After a long year of delays and discussion over direct funding for Austin venues, city staff worked quickly to distribute the majority of payouts before Christmas. Prior to the fund, only $861,000 in relief made its way to some 30 clubs throughout 2020. The city announced plans for Phase 2 money, which venues count on for further funding.

"Our $20,000 hit our account on Christmas Day, so what a wonderful thing to wake up to on Christmas morning," Parker Jazz Club owner Kris Kimura remarked in early January. "I know there's going to be more money, so as long as we can work out a deal with our landlord to catch up on all of our back rent, we should be able to hold on."

In an interview with the Chronicle, EDD Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb said her office plans for the next round of funds to be distributed in March. The Long Center, which partnered with the city to administer grants, received a total of 110 applications. After the accelerated pace through December, the 73 accepted venues have yet to be sent details for the more involved Phase 2 of the LMVPF.

The second part of the program could offer venues up to $140,000 through monthly installments. The unprecedented plan ties funding to Mayor Steve Adler's vision of business education for clubs and the Austin Music Commission's assertion that venues need to promote racial equity. These goals play out in the "technical assistance" and "Equity Strategic Plan" requirements, about which venues should receive details soon, according to Holt-Rabb.

"We don't have a final timeline yet on the equity training or Phase 2," she says. "We're still getting everything ready, but hopefully, within the next two weeks, venues are going to have to turn in more paperwork and begin technical assistance.

"That [will involve] an evaluation of their balance sheet, their lease, maybe talking to an attorney about renegotiating your lease to more favorable terms, or maybe they need to talk to an accountant. Going through that phase may take some time."

Equity training begins this month with consultant Joyce James. Completed plans aren't required of venues in order to receive Phase 2 funding, but they will need to start the process and agree to complete it. Evaluation of shuttered venues takes many forms.

"They'll be things that we can follow up on, with metrics the venues want to achieve," says James. "Hypothetically, a venue owner may say, 'Maybe I should look at my hiring practices of sound engineers. Let me reach out to ACC's sound engineering program to see who I could hire, versus my typical go-to. Who's part of the next generation I can bring up?'

"That's just one example. We're not looking to make it cookie cutter. We want to hear from venue owners on the industry systems that have been established for years. How do we break down those systems to allow others access?"

According to LMVPF details, if over 50 venues are found eligible for Phase 2 funding, "the city may narrow the eligibility criteria."

Music Venue Alliance Austin founder Rebecca Reynolds hopes this current outlay accompanies national grants under the Save Our Stages Act, which the Small Business Administration has yet to open applications for. Eligible venues, which must have been fully operational by Feb. 29, 2020, can receive grants for 45% of their gross 2019 revenue, capped at $10 million.

"Not everyone needs the full $140,000 [from the Preservation Fund]. That's part of the whole technical assistance piece, to figure out who needs that much money on a monthly basis," she says. "The Save Our Stages grants will change the math substantially on who needs how much.

"There are some venues in Austin who opened up after the eligibility date for Save Our Stages, so their only source of income grantwise will be the [Preservation Fund]. We need to prioritize businesses who haven't benefited from other grant opportunities."

The LMVPF leads an assortment of local relief programs. Holt-Robb says staff will release guidelines next for Legacy Business Relief, which offers support for businesses at least 20 years old. Venues that received funding from the Preservation Fund will not be eligible.

After that, Holt-Robb says staff will determine guidelines of the Iconic Venue Fund. She says Council wanted the program directed through an in-the-works Austin Economic Development Corporation.

"We'll have more once the corporation is fully up and running," she says.

While the patchwork of local and national assistance falls into place, venues remain eager for details.

"The mood is significantly different now than it was in, say, October, when we really didn't know if we were going to lose a substantial portion of our venue community," says Reynolds. "With these funding programs in place, there's reason to be optimistic. We're just waiting for clear directions so venues can renegotiate getting out of this hole with their landlords."

Cover photo by Todd V. Wolfson


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