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Austin Lyric Opera puts Barton Springs building up for sale

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Confirming rumors that have been circulating for weeks, officials with the Austin Lyric Opera announced Thursday that the organization plans to sell its headquarters on Barton Springs Road and will also jettison its music school.

Opera representatives said in June that both moves were under consideration as money-saving strategies for the financially troubled organization.

Built specifically as a music facility with soundproof studios and a large rehearsal space, the building at Barton Springs Road and Bouldin Avenue across from the Long Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2000, after the opera raised $4.5 million for its construction. It was designed by Lake Flato Architects of San Antonio. It is on the market for $5.6 million. Commercial Texas will represent the sale.

"(The building) is the only asset we have," said Jo Anne Christian, chairman of the opera board. "This is a long-term, strategic move in order to gain efficiency and sustainability."

The Armstrong Community Music School, which opened to much celebration in 2000 along with the new building, will also separate formally from the opera and incorporate as an independent entity. The school is the first of its kind to have opened in Central Texas.

Christian said that no timeline for the school's separation from the opera has been set and that a task force has been appointed to incorporate the school as its own nonprofit organization. The music school will also have to find its own new facility, she said.

A new facility for opera staff offices and for rehearsals has also not been identified yet, Christian said.

Thursday's announcement is just the latest of the organization's austerity measures in the past several months.

In May, Kevin Patterson, the opera's general director, left his post amid news that the opera was nearly $2 million in debt. The opera's current annual budget is $4 million.

Since Patterson's departure, the organization has trimmed the number of performances it will offer next season from four per production to three. The opera also closed its box office and consigned its ticket sale operations to the Long Center. The opera's 25th anniversary gala planned for the fall was also canceled.

An emergency fundraising campaign launched earlier this summer has so far netted $1 million in donations and pledges, Christian said. Kevin Smith, former president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Opera, joined the opera this month as the interim director.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699