What Hole in the Wall's Freshly Inked 20-Year Lease Means for Other At-Risk Venues

The Iconic Venue Fund plans to dish out more aid, but needs time, additional funds

The Hole in the Wall in 2020, featuring Austin artist Federico Archuleta's Bob Dylan mural (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

On August 15, the Austin Monitor reported that Hole in the Wall had acquired a new 20-year lease agreement with the help of $1.6 million in aid from the city's Iconic Venue Fund. Founded in December 2020 as a joint undertaking between the city and the semipublic Austin Economic Development Corporation, the Iconic Venue Fund seeks to bolster venues, restaurants, and bars hit hard by skyrocketing real estate prices and COVID-induced business losses.

For decades, a dark cloud of closure threats has loomed heavy over the West Campus mainstay, with the venue shuttering its doors from July 2002 to May 2003 and narrowly avoiding a second closure in 2015. Signed in collaboration with real estate firm the Weitzman Group, the freshly inked contract will allow Hole in the Wall to remain open for its 50th anniversary next summer. Management remains in the hands of General Manager Austin Leos and owner Will Tanner.

"We're super grateful for sure – to the city, to the AEDC, and to everyone that came in and supported us," says Leos, who has managed the Drag venue for nine years. "We're a no-frills bar with a vibrant history and a vibrant community, and we're kind of a holdout on the street.

"You can see a band every single night here, and that's part of Austin's culture," he continues. "There are a lot of places that still do that, and I hope they apply as well."

Hole in the Wall on the cover of the Chronicle in 2003, when it was closed from July 2002 to May 2003

In November 2021, the AEDC released its first call for proposals to venues looking to receive funding for real estate related and/or capital projects. By the spring of 2022, the entity had received 45 proposals, amounting to over $300 million in need. The AEDC narrowed the applicants down to a short list of 14 spaces, four of which were music venues. On why Hole in the Wall was selected as the first venue to receive Iconic Venue Fund cash, AEDC Chief Transactions Officer Anne Gatling Haynes cited the urgency of the dive bar's expiring lease.

"They were prioritized because they were on a year extension, and they've been on year extension leases for a few years now," explains Gatling Haynes. "We knew that if we couldn't get something together that would help them feel confident to sign a lease for the long term, we would lose them, so they became one of the priority projects."

Funding for the Iconic Venue Fund does not derive from taxpayer dollars, but rather a combination of hotel occupancy taxes and a 2018 bond package designed to funnel funds into art-focused spaces. A variety of venues are eligible for consideration, so long as they reflect Austin's "unique character and brand," as per the fund's founding ordinance. Gatling Haynes says that the public should expect additional funding announcements in early fall.

"I wouldn't say there's anything that's ineligible right now," says Gatling Haynes. "We're trying to be as creative as possible, but ultimately, we have to make sure that the sponsor of the dollars – the city – is comfortable with the way that we propose."

While the names of current candidates to next receive funding are not public, the Iconic Venue Fund's founding resolution provided a list of potential priority venues including the Victory Grill, Broken Spoke, Continental Club, Hole in the Wall, Antone's, Stubb's, and others. Could the fund's intervention be the saving grace of such spots?

According to Gatling Haynes, the answer is yes, but with additional time and funding.

"In the past year, we've been working under the Iconic Venue Fund to try and invest in as many [venues] as possible," she explains. "There are certainly some that we may not have money for immediately, but we're trying to help advance them so that when there is money we can actually invest in them.

"There are other active projects from that long list – in fact, all 14 are active," she continues of the program's short list. "We're not trying to get people off the list. On the contrary, we're trying to keep moving the projects forward as best as possible."

Gatling Haynes expressed AEDC's hope to receive additional funds from the city, as well as a desire to explore options for private partnerships.

"We really need property owners to be our partners in this – we can't solve it with just city money. We don't have a line out the door of people that want to donate to the program yet, but we'd like to see the public and private come together with building this fund so we can actually do more projects."

As rent soars across town, many venues find themselves in a similar position to Hole in the Wall – strapped for cash and inching ever closer to looming end-of-lease dates. Gatling Haynes encourages venues who missed the most recent call for proposals to make their needs known to the AEDC.

"I know people will want to know, 'How can I apply?' There is no application process, but I am taking in content information and hearing what the high-level issues are," she says."People can certainly contact me for more information. Again, we're busy doing these current projects and trying to get those across the finish line, but I'm happy to make sure I'm aware of what folks need us to know.

"The more I know what the needs are, the better we can at least advocate for new funds."

In April, the 58-year-old Broken Spoke received historical landmark designation with the help of AEDC's recommendation. Ginny White-Peacock, general manager and daughter of Broken Spoke founder James White, speaks highly of the city's recent efforts to maintain longstanding venues and hopes to benefit from the Iconic Venue Fund.

"We're so thankful for everything that the City Council has done for the Broken Spoke," says White-Peacock. "Without them, we couldn't have received the Historical Zone status.

"The Iconic Venue Fund is another way that the city can help out some of the legendary businesses like the Broken Spoke. Tourists come to Austin to visit these great places. They certainly don't come here to tour a bunch of condos."

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Hole in the Wall, Austin Economic Development Corporation, Austin Leos, Anne Gatling Haynes, Iconic Venue Fund, Ginny White-Peacock, The Broken Spoke

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