The future development site of the 200 Academy (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Among mixed-use plans for housing, shopping, a museum, and a recording studio at 200 Academy Dr., an envisioned music venue became the sticking point. The development hopes to revive the former Austin Opera club south of Congress. While the owners envision a mid-size destination comparable to the Paramount in capacity, neighbors are looking to a smaller venue similar to the nearby Continental Club.
During the initial approval of a first reading of the plans in January, members of the city council indicated that negotiations would be necessary between the disagreeing parties. Ahead of a second reading at the May 5 council meeting, neighbors are suggesting a compromise of two separate music rooms, rather than a larger centralized one. The proposal was created by the Greater South River City Combined (GSRCC) Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, which includes residents near the project.
Specifically, they would like to limit the main venue to a capacity of 200 people, similar to the Continental, “with a seating/standing area for the public not to exceed 3,000 square feet,” according to the document, which the group sent to the Council. . For the smaller secondary club, they suggest a space no larger than 1,500 square feet, such as a small listening room. Focusing on traffic issues on the Academy Drive connection, the proposal points out that the site “is now only 4.6 acres in size, is now completely enclosed in the neighborhood, and has no frontage on South Congress or any other main road” – unlike the 70s of Willie Nelson. the possession.
“We all agreed that we would like to have two small venues,” said renowned Austin musician and producer Brian Beattie, a member of the GSRCC contact team. “More local musicians would be employed by this, and venues could stagger start and end times. Think of how many additional musicians in town will be able to play in a 200-seat venue, as opposed to a 1,000-seat venue with mostly touring musicians.”
Originally an event space attached to a South Side motel, Nelson purchased the property to debut at the Austin Opera House (known colloquially as “the Opry House”) in 1977 as a venue concert hall with a capacity of 1,700 people and 42,000 square feet. Development owner Chris Wallin and his architect/agent Richard Weiss, a 30-year veteran of the Austin music scene and principal architect of the Alamo Drafthouse, want to use the venue’s original walls and stage, currently converted into offices, to build a new place. In a response to the Chronicle, Wallin says they’ve already cut plans for a 17,000 square foot venue that can accommodate 1,200 fans (similar to Paramount). Their latest offer to neighbors shrinks further to 13,500 square feet. “The Austin Opera House‘s original capacity was over 1,700 people and, unfortunately, a hall size of 200 people or less is not a reasonable compromise,” Wallin writes. “We already have some great little clubs near Congress South like the Continental Club and C-Boy’s and I hope our community will continue to support these businesses. Austin doesn’t need another little club, but we we need a place with a capacity of 800 -1200 people.”
According to the GSRCC traffic study, the area will not safely allow “comprehensive entertainment-related uses” such as a proposed venue, museum and bar to exceed 10,000 square feet. The contact team commissioned their own study from engineering firm Pacheco Koch, paid for by Colin Corgan – owner of a huge Victorian house being refurbished just behind the development. According to the band, the 200 Academy traffic study “problematically asserted that all gig traffic would be spread evenly over a 24-hour period” and “based its assumptions on Covid-era traffic counts”. .
In response, Wallin writes that engineering firm WGI worked with the Austin Department of Transportation for more than a year to get approval for the traffic plan for 200 Academy in May 2021. The development plan s is committed to providing over $300,000 in additional neighborhood traffic improvements. He also said the study shows there will be “very little concert traffic” during typical peak hours, defined as 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“I know some neighbors don’t like the approval of this traffic engineering study, but our report followed all rules and guidelines and was approved by the Austin Traffic Engineering Department,” he said. -he writes. “Also, this traffic study is for zoning only and we will need to review and re-approve upon submission of our site plan and building permit.”
From the neighbour’s perspective, the GSRCC’s proposal points out: “The proposed large concert hall would create a dangerous mix of thousands of additional vehicle journeys on narrow, winding neighborhood roads…and the blocking of Music Lane, which turns into a firefighting lane and is the single access point for fire trucks for many residences and businesses, including the Magdalena Hotel.”
The adjoining Hotel Magdalena and Hotel Saint Cecilia joined efforts by neighbors to impose limits on development last month, according to city documents – although the Bunkhouse owners’ group declined to comment further.
Weiss and Wallin want the property removed from the Fairview Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD), which limits the amount of residential density allowed on the site. In January, neighbors successfully filed a valid petition against the removal of 200 Academy from the NCCD, which requires the support of owners of 20% of the land within 200 feet of the site. With the signing of the hotels, they have since reached 46.46% of the territory. Because of the petition, the developers need nine council votes to rezone, instead of six.
Despite the council hurdle, 200 Academy works from a music preservation angle, as a mixed-use development actually incorporating a venue is a dream long discussed by local music advocates. The developers have teamed up with Freddy Fletcher, who founded Arlyn Studios on the same property in 1984, and his business partner Will Bridges. In early January, the studio encouraged supporters to email Board members at “Save Austin Opera House & Arlyn Studios”, finding support from Willie Nelson, who is Fletcher’s uncle, and the band at nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians.
After surveying members in January, ATM found that 93% of members were in favor of development if affordable housing was included. The plan has received SMART Housing certification from the city and would require 10% of all units built to be capped at 80% of Austin’s median family income, or $79,100 for a family of four.
GSRCC member Beattie lives and operates her own recording studio very close to 200 Academy. The house was bought in 1993 by his wife – who he says lived through the end of the disruption of the place in the neighborhood, then called the terrace. The producer has actually recorded in Arlyn before, including the Dead Milkmen’s classic “Punk Rock Girl” in sessions for their 1988 album, Beelzebub.
He is frustrated with the message that the fate of the on-site studio is tied to the size of the proposed venue, pointing out that the GSRCC’s proposal advocates the preservation of Arlyn with no limit to studio space expansion. Beattie has come to terms with the fact that her studio, like Arlyn, might be unusable for a few years due to construction noise — whether or not 200 Academy includes a room.
“It’s a big, complex situation, but it seems so comical that they’re like, ‘You’re against Austin’s music,'” Beattie said. “Like, that’s what I do. I make music. Arlyn is great, and everyone in the neighborhood has always loved it. It’s nice that the room is there, but it hasn’t disappeared by mistake, you know? Over and over again, it just couldn’t work in a way that was legally allowed.”