South River City's historic Austin Opera House property targeted for housing development, music venue revival

200 Academy Drive could be redeveloped to bring live music and housing to a South River City neighborhood. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
200 Academy Drive could be redeveloped to bring live music and housing to a South River City neighborhood. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

200 Academy Drive could be redeveloped to bring live music and housing to a South River City neighborhood. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

A revived music venue and multifamily housing development could be coming to the former Austin Opera House property off of South Congress Avenue.

The proposed project from property owner Spearhead Academy would create more than 100 housing units and tens of thousands of square feet of retail and open space. The 4.6-acre development at 200 Academy Drive would be centered around the opera house's revival as a 17,500-square-foot, 800-seat concert hall and music museum.

The project appeared before Austin's Planning Commission on Sept. 14 for commissioners' consideration of an amendment to the South River City neighborhood plan and related zoning change that would allow for the applicant's envisioned redevelopment. Speaking for the project, Richard Weiss of Weiss Architecture Inc. highlighted the defunct venue's decadeslong history in the Austin live music scene as a key reason for revitalization, along with its potential housing additions to the growing corridor.

“200 Academy is a rare opportunity to re-establish a historic music venue in its original location in the heart of the city with a new residential buffer," Weiss said.

Originally a motel ballroom and club established as the Texas Opry House, the venue grew over the years and attracted dozens of big-name musicians and enthusiastic crowds to its 42,000-square-foot hall before its closure in the 1990s, Weiss said. The old opera house no longer hosts concerts and is now home to Arlyn Studios and a parking lot Weiss labeled as a "development canyon" near downtown.

While Weiss pointed to the facility's past use as a basis for its comeback, issues related to neighborhood planning rose to the top during the September city planning review. The property at the corner of Academy Drive and Melissa Lane is subject to development limitations set through the Fairview Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District finalized in 1986, restrictions Weiss asked planning commissioners to consider removing.

The plan has generated some concern from its South River City neighbors as well, several of whom formed a committee to oppose a venue project they said would bring traffic, noise and disturbances to their neighborhood.

While portions of South Congress nearby have seen heavy development additions in recent years, the concert hall and housing project would be set back from the main corridor and accessible only by the residential Academy Drive. That separation and the potential fallout from a live music venue led neighbors at the Sept. 14 meeting to speak against the project while supporting the future redevelopment of the space overall.

“We just could find no justification for a major music venue coming off of a local neighborhood street," said Laura Toups, a resident of Le Grande Avenue.

Brian Beattie, an area resident who said he performed at the old opera house, was one of several other locals who also spoke to the proposal. Beattie said that despite the venue's sentimental aspects, past concerts and crowds were something nearby neighbors had to endure rather than celebrate—a trend he does not want to see brought back.

"There are many wonderful shows people remember for many years there, but there was a parallel history of the neighborhood having to, well, basically fight against what was happening at night," Beattie said.

Planning commissioners were also split on the case's merits and the 200 Academy team's ask for neighborhood plan and zoning adjustments. Discussion and a series of votes saw some members vocally support the full redevelopment plan, while others called for a reduced footprint or a complete reworking of the proposal.

The project was supported by commissioners including Awais Azhar and Joao Paolo Connolly, who credited the plan's preservation of the historic site's vibrancy, addition to the city's live music landscape, nearby transportation access and housing. Several commissioners who were in opposition echoed some reservations over neighborhood disruption and character and a lack of a more extensive housing component.

“We haven’t heard anything about affordability. ... This needs to be scrapped tonight," Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler said. "I think this is a good opportunity to bring in the kind of housing that we keep talking about we want to see more of, particularly when we’ve got a neighborhood that is in support of that. I think this is a missed opportunity."

The commission eventually moved to consider the project team's full plan amendment and rezoning requests as well as an option with reduced development limits based on staff and commissioner input. Both options failed in split votes with several supporters, opponents and abstentions, leading commissioners to eventually approve postponing a final decision until their Oct. 12 meeting.

“I strongly think that there is a way to solve this puzzle to kind of revive a historic music venue location but do it in a way that’s respectful to the neighborhood’s concerns so that we don’t just go back to what everyone fondly remembers as a very noisy, trashy but fun place to be. But maybe not a fun place to live," Commissioner Grayson Cox said.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.


The new signs are visible at the intersections of San Antonio Street and Sandra Muraida Way. (Courtesy Austin Transportation Department)
New parking signs in downtown Austin will update number of available spaces for 3 lots in real time

The signs provide real-time parking information for the Austin City Hall, Austin Central Library and Seaholm lots. They will begin to show the real-time data next week.

Several parents of New Caney ISD students spoke at the district's Sept. 20 board meetings about recent allegations that a student brought a firearm to Porter High School's Sept. 18 homecoming dance. NCISD Superintendent Matt Calvert stressed that no gunshots were fired at the event, and that the district is investigating the allegations. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI Nation roundup: Round Rock ISD trustees considered for censuring; New Caney ISD addresses allegations of student with gun at campus event and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Sept. 23.

Flights between Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and London-Heathrow will resume Oct. 13 for the first time in 17 months. (Courtesy Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)
British Airways to resume service from Austin to London in October

The flights will run three days per week and include COVID-19 safety measures for passengers.

The Austin metropolitan statistical area surpasses COVID-19 pandemic job losses. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin regains all pandemic job loss, San Antonio nearly misses top 10 best performing metros in the country

The Austin and San Antonio metropolitan statistical areas continue their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of a plant store
Succulent Native opens new South Lamar shop and more South Austin business news

It is the second location for the local succulent and cactus purveyor.

Travis County sent a letter to TxDOT Sept. 21 asking it to explore more options for its I-35  design through downtown Austin. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County says TxDOT I-35 proposals need ‘more work’ in letter to the state transportation agency

TxDOT said that taking down the highway’s upper decks from Airport Boulevard to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard necessitates property displacements.

APD interim Chief Joseph Chacon was named as Austin's next police chief Sept. 22, pending City Council confirmation. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Chacon looks to police staffing, city violence, community relations following appointment as APD's next chief

Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, a 23-year APD veteran, was tapped to be the department's next chief pending City Council confirmation.

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County approves fiscal year 2021-22 tax rate

The newly approved rate, paired with higher home appraisal rates, will result in an increase in taxes for many homeowners.

Photo of people attending ACL Fest
City of Austin approves ACL health and safety plan, holds off on final permit

Austin Public Health gave ACL the go-ahead to allow proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, but asked organizers to require masking in some areas.

Hundreds of complaints were logged against the Austin Police Department last year related to protests against police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police oversight office challenges APD handling of most 2020 protest complaints

Austin's Office of Police Oversight objected to several aspects of the police department's approach to classifying and investigating protest-related grievances.