Austin music venues at risk of closure could start applying for emergency aid within next 2 months, city says

Pictured here is a concert at The Mohawk on Red River Street. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pictured here is a concert at The Mohawk on Red River Street. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Pictured here is a concert at The Mohawk on Red River Street. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Music venues and legacy small businesses at imminent risk of closure due to the pandemic will be able to apply for emergency taxpayer-funded grants up to $20,000 by early to mid-January 2021, according to new city documents that outline the local stimulus package Austin City Council directed back in October.

The money will come from the Saving Austin's Vital Economic Sectors, or SAVES, program, a $17.3-million local effort to not only buoy but protect Austin's live music venues, legacy small business and child care facilities—vulnerable industries the city has tapped as representative of its essence and that, if lost, would be difficult to revive.

In a Nov. 18 memo to Austin's mayor and City Council, Chief Economic Recovery Officer Veronica Briseño said the city's economic development department could begin accepting applications from live music venues and legacy small business for immediate grants in the next 45-60 days. With City Council approval of the program's guidelines set for Dec. 3, she said, the more robust, long-term-focused program could launch by February 2021. In the meantime, the city has and will continue to offer services, such as webinars, training and coaching, to support struggling businesses.

To receive one of the short-term grants, eligible businesses will have to prove they are at immediate risk of closing if they do not receive the grant. They will also have to agree to enter a technical assistance program administered by a to-be-named third-party vendor. The details of the technical assistance program remain vague, but Mayor Steve Adler said the point is to offer professional expertise in the realm of accounting, legal help and more that these small businesses and venues may not otherwise be able to access.

Adler has said he wants the businesses helped by the program to end up better off than they were before the pandemic hit the city in March. Many of the businesses in these industries were at risk of closure long before the pandemic due to skyrocketing property values and thin financial margins.

Although some money in the program is set aside for immediate grants, the program's focus is on the long-term viability of these sectors. In her memo, Briseño said businesses who complete the technical assistance program would be eligible to apply for an additional grant of up to $40,000 per month, and up to $140,000 over six months—this is the part of the program set to launch in February 2021. Eligibility will consider various factors, such as years in business, number of annual events, terms of lease agreement and ownership status.

Adler said he does not want the program to be a "straight-up grant program." For it to produce the results the city seeks, it will have to focus not just on providing money but also on working with landlords and legal experts to renegotiate leases and ensure the long-term viability of the businesses.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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