Naked City

Midtown Saga Burns On

More details concerning the proposed loan to the owners of the Midtown Live nightclub surfaced late last week, in an e-mail from City Manager Toby Futrell responding to a series of questions posed by City Council Member Brewster McCracken, who has been publicly skeptical of the proposal.

According to Futrell, the proposed $750,000 forgivable loan from the city's 16-year-old music loan program was actually first requested by Jo Baylor, the daughter of the club's owner, Selena Cash, as a way to supplement the money expected to come from the club's insurance policy. "More [money] would be needed to cover replacement costs, restore the contents [of the club] and to enhance the club to a level that would complement Austin's music scene and increase economic capacity, such as adding a kitchen," Baylor told Futrell. (According to a March 18 Statesman story, Baylor had said the family "didn't ask for a loan, but is grateful.")

The club burned down on Feb. 18, when an electrical short in a vent fan in the women's bathroom ignited a stockpile of paper napkins and cups (and police officers and dispatchers embarrassed the city with the now-infamous "Burn baby, burn" message). During a Feb. 22 meeting, Futrell told Baylor that the city hoped the club would be rebuilt, in part because the city was aware that a city demographer's study of Austin's African-American community (the "African American Scorecard," briefed to the Council last week) highlighted the absence of a lively black social scene in Austin. Futrell apologized for the APD messages, and told Baylor that the city would be happy to help expedite the city permitting and inspection process in order to get the club rebuilt. Baylor "thanked [Futrell] for the courageous work of the firefighters," but said her family was disappointed by the police response. "She said the family felt they had been victimized twice; the loss of the club and the vicious comments sent on the computer," Futrell wrote. Baylor further said that her family "had received numerous requests [nationally] urging them to elevate this issue; however, they felt inclined to work with the City."

In mid-March, Acting Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald met with Baylor, explained various loan possibilities, and asked if a $400,000 loan from the loan program might do the trick – an amount "consistent" with a 1999 loan made to relocate the now-defunct Liberty Lunch. According to Futrell's e-mail, that figure wasn't high enough. Baylor "said that they needed $750,000 from the city to rebuild and expand the club. She said construction costs have increased dramatically since 1999. Furthermore, she felt they were not asking for too much assistance after everything APD had done."

Nonetheless, Futrell said the city had yet to see any construction bids and was not yet aware of how much insurance the club actually carried – primarily because that information would remain confidential unless the council voted to allow Futrell to conduct formal loan negotiations. Word of the loan proposal sparked overwhelming public response, much of it negative – and some of it blatantly racist in tone, council members have said – and on March 24, they postponed the item that would allow Futrell to proceed with negotiations, deciding instead to sponsor public discussion of the proposal prior to returning to the council. Still, in response to McCracken, Futrell wrote that Baylor had not given the city any "indication that the club would not be rebuilt without city funds," but wanted financial assistance in order to "enhance and expand" the club to promote live music, obtain additional parking capacity, and provide enhanced security.

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Midtown Live, Burn Baby Burn, Toby Futrell, Jo Baylor, Selena Cash, Austin Police Department, APD, Mike McDonald, Brewster McCracken, Music Loan Program

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