At a meeting of the Austin Music Commission on Monday night, Bryan Block from the city’s music office said he is developing a proposal to expand a music venue loan assistance program managed by the city. Implemented in 2012, the program currently allows any business with amplified sound to apply for a very low interest loan to assist with sound mitigation measures.
The program was developed to help alleviate friction between entertainment businesses and downtown residents as city officials pushed to increase residential living downtown, but Block said only four businesses have taken advantage of the program in the five years it’s been running. It’s not that venues don’t need the money, he said, but that the restrictions on how the money can be used limit the practicality for many clubs.
Venues are struggling with rent increases and razor thin business margins, Block said. If sound complaints haven’t been an issue for a club, the last thing they want to spend money on is “something that doesn’t pay back.” He said that none of the venues that have participated in the program have defaulted on their loans.
He hopes to maintain the loans for sound mitigation, but to create a “second track” that would allow for other capital expansions that could provide additional revenue to a club. For example, a club might use the loan to add a commercial kitchen.
“We want to make it available for something that would make them more sustainable,” he said.
He also hopes to be able to bump up the maximum amount of loan from $35,000 to $50,000, and his office, part of the city’s Economic Development Division, is also looking at ways clubs might be able to combine this loan with other city loan programs, like the family business loan program. If clubs are able to present their landlords with significant planned improvements to properties, it might give them leverage to negotiate better and longer lease terms.
Block said his office is currently getting input from venue owners and the Music Venue Alliance Austin. He hopes to have a proposal to bring to the Music Commission next month and City Council later this year.