Austin officials are backing a financial support package for the Red River Cultural District's downtown music and nightlife scene, while seeking to aid both new and established cultural districts around town.

The effort follows Red River stakeholders' petition to Austin leaders for help, and City Council's vote earlier this month to expand Austin's work with local live music and cultural events that was headlined by the return of the Blues on the Green summer concert series.

"It’s important to keep the momentum going around this issue," council member Zo Qadri said. "Not only is the Red River Cultural District a critical part of Austin’s vibrant cultural music and arts scene, but it also has a sizable role in the local economy. It is crucial that we find a way to support them and all our cultural arts and heritage districts."

Read more about some of the challenges facing Austin artists and venues here.

The breakdown

The Feb. 29 passage of a resolution from Qadri, who represents downtown Austin including the Red River area, may direct some city resources to the Red River Merchants Association and area business owners, employees and artists.

A city contract to be developed this year could help fund:
  • Year-round marketing for the Red River district
  • Public programming about the district's history
  • Reporting on the district's economic impact
  • Local business operations
  • Expansions of Red River's Hot Summer Nights festival
The proposed city action comes after Red River stakeholders said they needed City Hall's assistance dealing with rising unaffordability, lagging pandemic recovery, homelessness and the impacts of several major infrastructure projects planned around downtown. The city Music Commission formally recommended such support in January.

“Right now, Red River stands at the forefront of numerous transformations that really could impact significant assets that contribute to our brand and culture, and importantly our local economy," Nicole Klepadlo, the district's interim executive director, told council Feb. 29.

The services outlined in the council-approved relief measure were all requested by cultural district representatives and could now be offered later in the spring.

Today, the Red River area remains one of downtown's most visited entertainment districts even after seeing activity crater in 2020 thanks to COVID-19.

Business there has gradually rebounded in the past few years, and it routinely drew more than 100,000 monthly visitors in 2023, according to data compiled by the Downtown Austin Alliance. It's also one of two state-designated cultural districts in Austin.

Zooming out

Beyond Red River, City Council also called to create a new funding framework for all of Austin's cultural and heritage districts.

That blueprint could involve places like East Austin's Six Square Black Cultural District, the 5th Street Mexican American Heritage Corridor, the South Shore Cultural District and others.

The new framework would also come with official review of the city's Chapter 380 economic incentive policy, its small business- and nonprofit-focused Location Enhancement Program, and its designation of cultural districts.

Past reporting on the influence of the local live music and cultural scene suggest Austin's creative sector provides hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic impact, including millions in city tax revenue. Numerous City Council actions have sought to bolster music and cultural programs and funding across Austin over the past decade-plus.