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ACL Live becoming a popular pick for special nonmusic events

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

Big-name music acts aren't all you'll find on the ACL Live stage.

The new downtown venue has quickly become a popular spot for a variety of special events — everything from Microsoft's unveiling of Internet Explorer 9 during South by Southwest to a May fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama and business gatherings.

"It has been a real whirlwind," said Colleen Fischer, the venue's talent buyer. "We're always busy. Most days, we've got multiple events going on."

KLRU, the station behind the "Austin City Limits" TV show, has access to the facility about 50 nights annually, and ACL Live expects to host up to 100 additional concerts each year. The rest of the time, the stage is up for grabs.

A balcony, gallery and porch can also be rented separately, or as part of a package. Access to the entire facility for a night costs $15,000 or more.

The Austin Advertising Federation was among ACL Live's early users, hosting its Addy Awards ceremony there in February.

"We've done all the big venues in town multiple times," said President Kevin Cassis, an executive with marketing firm TWG Plus. "This gave us a new option, and we knew everyone was going to want to check it out."

An estimated 500 attendees had full rein of the facility, Cassis says, including access to the VIP suites.

"That's something they'd never be able to enjoy otherwise," he said.

RISE Austin, a forum for entrepreneurs, has used the facility, as well, for its 2011 RISE Awards ceremony.

"It's a great space," said program manager Dana Roefer. "Plus, you can't get better sound quality anywhere else in town."

The Sante Ventures venture capital firm chose ACL Live for its recent annual meeting and dinner, which included an appearance by Gov. Rick Perry.

And the Hill Country Conservancy used it for its annual fundraiser, which featured Robert Kennedy Jr. as the keynote speaker.

The Second Street District has been hosting Wine Down Wednesdays on ACL Live's front porch this summer, offering food samples from area restaurants, as well as wine. The next one is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday.

ACL Live provides another option for local event planners, in addition to more established large downtown venues such as the Long Center, the Austin Music Hall, the Palmer Events Center and the Austin Hilton ballrooms.

The Microsoft launch was among the larger private events there. The crowd of 1,500, including senior executives from Seattle, watched huge animations of trees displayed against enormous scrims.

Nonmusic events should end up accounting for about half of the venue's revenue, Fischer said.

"It's the nature of the building to be multipurpose," she said. "It can be transformed into anything."

Fall and winter galas have October and November pretty well booked, and a number of other dates have tentative holds on them, said ACL Live private events manager Keri-Dawn Solner.

"We're doing quite a few high-profile events here," she said. "I really do see this venue becoming a national destination."

Located at the base of the W Austin Hotel on West Second Street, the venue leans heavily on the hotel's catering team to provide food for music acts, as well as a number of galas.

"We try very hard to not have a typical catered menu," said Sean Bradshaw, director of food and beverage for the W. "Our goal is to really blow people away."

Offerings so far have included everything from Asian fare to filet mignon \u2013 and, of course, barbecue.

"We haven't had any really crazy requests from the performers so far," he said, "but I'm sure it's just a matter of time."

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987