Developers pitch new song and verse for The Backyard

After 20 years as a two-stage outdoor music venue on the edge of the Hill Country, The Backyard at Bee Cave may be growing.

Bee Cave City Council heard a presentation Jan. 28 from International Development Management CEO Christopher Milam proposing expansion plans for The Backyard, 13801 Bee Cave Parkway, as well as plans for a new site, The Terrace in Bee Cave, 13500 Bee Cave Parkway.

"The Backyard is part of the local community," Milam said. "It's a very small place with a very big presence. We're letting the essence of The Backyard bleed into the entire project and give it the [presence] we are looking for."

The original Backyard would be overhauled to retain its amphitheaters—The Live Oak and The Glenn—and add four 20,000-square-foot movie production sound stages, office buildings, a hotel, VIP seating, retail shops, restaurants, parking garages, a sculpture garden, a nature trail system and a helipad shared with The Terrace, he said. The Live Oak amphitheater standing capacity would be scaled down from 9,000 to 6,000 patrons, he said.

The Terrace, which had been proposed as grounds for Supernature Studios in October, would include four 10,000-square-foot television production sound stages, a lumber mill for set construction, office buildings, residential condominium buildings connected to an underground parking garage, additional free-standing parking garages, restaurants and retail, Milam said.

Milam said that since his original October presentation to City Council for the six-soundstage Supernature Studios, two more motion pictures have committed to film in Austin. He said the previous project was too large for one site so the developers split it between two tracts.

Milam said he partnered with John Paul DeJoria, founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems hair products and The Patron Spirits Company, for The Backyard build but is constructing The Terrace with only his own firm.

The total project, not including construction of a hotel, would cost between $150 million and $175 million, and formal plans will be filed in late February, Milam said. The partnership is set to close on The Terrace properties in late March, he said.

Community response

Residents at the Jan. 28 council meeting said they were concerned about the venue noise, the building height and the additional multifamily housing.

All buildings would have a maximum height of 55 feet, with a three-story hotel, four-story office buildings and five-story parking garages, Milam said. He said he hired an acoustic engineer for the planning team to help confine the noise. The condominiums, about 180 to 200 units among three buildings, would be high-end and appeal to empty-nesters, he said.

"We don't have condos [in Bee Cave], and we have to offer a variety of products if we're going to be a full life-cycle community," Councilwoman Zelda Auslander said.

Councilwoman Michelle Bliss said the zoning in place only permits 35-foot-tall buildings, and Milam is proposing structures that are 20 feet higher. She said Bee Cave does not have any five-story parking garages.

"It's a big ask for the community to look at structures this size," Councilman Bill Goodwin said. "The density and the height will be something people are going to have to get their mind around before you get some buy-in from the public, whom we represent."

What's next

Milam said Tim O'Connor would continue to manage The Backyard, and construction may begin on both The Backyard and The Terrace this fall.

O'Connor said the plan is to complete the entire 2014 season at The Backyard's current layout, and future concerts will be scheduled around construction as best as possible.

"We're in our 21st season [at The Backyard]," said O'Connor, who said he will remain involved in the project. "Our goal is to make the fan experience better than it's been."

Partnering with Willie Nelson

Tim O'Connor, The Backyard at Bee Cave manager, said he has had a long-standing friendship and business arrangement with Willie Nelson. Nelson played 32 times during 17 seasons at the music venue's original Bee Cave location, he said.

"[Nelson] would open the season and, more than likely, close it," O'Connor said. "He was the first act to play [at The Backyard]."

Nelson and O'Connor have also teamed up in other ventures. O'Connor said he owned the Austin Opry House, 200 Academy St., with Nelson from 1977–90, as well as apartments and office buildings.