According to a special report released by the Austin chapter of the Urban Land Institute, venue owners in the Red River Cultural District say “safety and security of patrons and employees are the immediate and greatest obstacles to their economic stabilization and health.”

In interviews with ULI panelists during a two-day study, the venue owners expressed concerns “a large, and ever growing, homeless population in the district attracts a criminal element, which preys on both the homeless and on district patrons and employees,” the report says.  Despite the fact that the main Austin Police Department station is one block from the district, the report says “a significant trade in dangerous street drugs such as K2 has compounded the area’s unsavory reputation.” 

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The crosswalk of Red River St. and E 7th St. during South by Southwest on Friday March18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

The study, co-sponsored by the City of Austin and the Red River Cultural District Merchant’s Association/Austin Music People was conducted over a two-day period from Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2016 with the objective of examining the challenges and opportunities in the Red River Cultural District, an area the report describes as Austin’s “live music ‘business incubator:’ the largest concentration of live music venues within a six-block district on the eastern edge of Downtown.”

In addition to safety the report cites rapidly rising rents and new development in the area as pressures on the live music scene. The report describes a general sense that “Austin venues only have a small window in which to find solutions before property values ‘really go crazy.'” And, in conclusion, states that “Austin is in the effective ’11th hour’ of the endangerment of the live music scene, and taking no action in the near term and failing to sustain action over the long haul are not acceptable options.”

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It notes that “more than 6,000 hotel rooms are within a quarter mile of the Red River Cultural District,” with more hotels slated to open in the future, underlining the importance of the Agent of Change doctrine that officials at the city music office have been exploring for the past two years and indicating the city should look at ways to use the revenue generated by Hotel Occupancy Tax to provide relief to venues.

The report isn’t all doom and gloom. It cites the lack of daytime activity in the area as a problem, but imagines a future for the district when “attractions along the revitalized creek, including simply the heritage-tourism appeal of a pleasant stroll along a landscaped historic waterway, will draw daytime visitors to the area” enhancing bars ability to successfully produce happy hour shows and daytime events.

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To reach that end, the report says a number of key factors including public private partnerships to provide venues financial relief, adoption of best practice guidelines by venue owners and strong city leadership are critical. But it emphasizes a reduction of criminal activity and increased safety in the area as essential. “Without a solution to this problem, nothing else will be effective,” the report says.