Venue capacity still under negotiation in Austin Opry House rezoning

Venue capacity still under negotiation in Austin Opry House rezoning

Photo by city of Austin

Friday, May 6, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

A proposal to bring back renowned music venue Austin Opry House might have sailed through City Council if not for neighbors concerned about one thing: venue capacity. 

Because of neighbors fearing traffic and boisterous concertgoers from the proposed 1,200-capacity venue, the rezoning won’t be decided until at least June – nine months after the project’s first Planning Commission hearing last September. As of Thursday, neighbors and the developer are still at an impasse after months of talks. Amid these discussions, City Council approved the rezoning at 200 Academy Drive on second reading with the expectation that both parties continue negotiations before third and final reading on June 9.

To allow a mix of housing – including affordable housing – and other uses, the developer hopes to remove the Fairview Park NCCD, a zoning overlay intended to preserve the single-family neighborhood, among other zoning changes. The site is currently home to Arlyn Studios and a large surface parking lot.

Neighbors say everything besides the venue size is fine by them. “We support the housing – we’d actually like to see some affordable housing in this project,” Laura Toups said. “We support the offices, the restaurant, recording studio, and other sorts of support businesses. But what we don’t support is a 1,200-person venue that is accessed off of a neighborhood street.”

To ease neighborhood concerns, the development team at previous hearings said the design will direct cars and people to South Congress, away from the neighborhood.

Even so, neighbors argue that the venue will still flood the streets with traffic and intoxicated concertgoers when shows end. “At that moment, there are a lot of people who, by the nature of the situation, have drunk a whole lot,” Brian Beattie told the Austin Monitor. “All the pedestrians and all of the cars are going to be exiting out that one little road.”

Beattie, a longtime Austin musician who lives across the street, remembers the Opry House’s heyday, when Willie Nelson and others played there. “I saw a number of great artists play in that building – I played there.” But he says the large music venue never worked for the neighbors. Beattie and Toups say they prefer two small venues with staggered showtimes. 

Michael Whellan, representing the applicant, told the Monitor a revived Opry House will “strengthen our musical ecosystem” by providing “a stepping stone for growing artists whose success has outgrown the smaller venues which are readily available.”

Local music industry insiders agree, saying the city is lacking a medium-sized, indoor, standing-room-only venue like the one proposed. “I think what needs to happen here is a larger-capacity venue where bands that I’ve nurtured and helped and groomed over the past 40 years … have a much larger space to perform,” said Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club. 

On first reading, Council was split on venue size. A motion to approve the rezoning with a 17,500-square-foot venue passed 6-5.

A valid petition by nearby homeowners will force a 9-vote supermajority for the case to be approved. Property owners representing 46 percent of the area within 200 feet of the site wrote in opposition. Among the signatories are the owner of a 8,000-square-foot home appraised at nearly $5 million and the adjacent Hotel Magdalena.

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