Lakeway report: 800- to 900-seat performing arts center feasible

Updated Dec. 16 at 10:51 a.m.



Lakeway City Council unanimously approved an agreement Dec. 15 for $22,000 for professional services with Janis Barlow & Associates for Part 2 of a feasibility study of an arts and conference center.



City Council to decide fate of second study Dec. 15



Following months of researching the performing arts sector in the Lakeway area and Austin, an 800- to 900-seat theater will best suit the region's market, said Janis Barlow, arts and heritage resource management consultant, during the Dec. 15 Lakeway Visitors Commission morning meeting. Barlow is the principal of Toronto-based arts consulting practice Janis Barlow & Associates.



The Lakeway Visitors Commission unanimously approved recommending to City Council a second contract with Barlow in the amount of $22,000 to develop a viable business plan to identify partners or resources to fund the project, including potential donors; determine types of programming; develop design criteria; and provide an approximate cost.



Lakeway City Council is set to discuss the item at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 15.



Barlow said she reviewed two business possibilities geared toward different markets—a conference center or a theater/performing arts center. However, her report stated that a city-operated, stand-alone conference center is not recommended.



She said that although Lakeway began as a resort, it has emerged as a hybrid city—a traditional community with "terrific amenities and geography."



Creating a performing arts or conference center would be the next step in urban development for the city, Barlow said.



Barlow interviewed stakeholders and Lakeway residents to gain a perception of the community's needs and ensure her projections would be compatible with the resources and culture in the area, including TexARTS and Alisa's Dance Academy, she said.



Given the close proximity to Austin, Barlow said Lakeway can serve as an executive retreat but would need something unique to be successful since golf courses are plentiful in Central Texas. Barlow said a hotel developer would be in the best position to develop a conference center for the community.



However, an 800-seat performing arts theater would be sustainable, she said.



"Austin and Travis County appear to have no public, state-of-the-art, full-service theaters in the 500- to 1,200-seat range," Barlow said in her report. "There is a serious facility gap for a full-service ... theater ... in the range of 800 to 1,200 seats.."



A 40,000-square-foot center would cost about $16 million to construct, and a 60,000-square-foot center would cost about $22 million, she said.



"It has to be a [public/private] partnership," Barlow said of the funding for the project.



Through its programming, a performing arts center is likely to attract support and audiences from the region as well as provide incentive to increase overnight stays in Lakeway, one of the objectives of the project, she said.



"A signature presentation series, unique production commissions and/or a festival would help brand the center and Lakeway as a destination," Barlow said.



A performing arts center would also require a professional staff to run the facility and programming, she said.



One site being considered to house the project is the Oaks at Lakeway, the city's newest retail center under construction on RR 620 at Glen Heather, Commissioner Gary Shoemaker said. The second study, if approved by Lakeway City Council, is slated to take between three and six months to complete, he said. If all goes according to plan, ground breaking on the proposed project is about two years away, he said.



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