Austin has been top of mind for many in media lately. It’s been frequently cited as the hottest places to start a business. With it’s roots in in music, film, gaming and experiences, one has to wonder what this means for the city and creative spaces both old and new.
When I moved to Austin 7 months ago I started hearing about Richard Linklater’s films Slacker and Dazed & Confused. When I watched the movies it was hard to recognize the early 90s Austin featured in the films. How could that be the city I’m walking in each day? I often hear from people who have been here even six to seven years that the city has changed as much in that time as in the time between 2010 and those films. The most apparent set of changes comes from the buildings and structures that make up the city and how they are laid out.
We’re all readily familiar with the important role space plays in our work, with the studio or venue space being paramount to the impact we have, but it’s the buildings and structures in the broader sense and the role that they play collectively that struck me. Hollywood comes to mind as an epicenter of where the use of space defines the economy. As we dig deeper we can see that happening elsewhere with new media. Chicago is building the full stack at 2112. Nashville has taken a lead in music innovation with their incubators and accelerators. Adelaide Australia’s Musitec has been working with the city to develop unique public-private-non-profit partnerships. Even New Orleans is being reinvented down on Bourbon Street, which was cited recently taking note of Austin’s nightlife.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to see Austin Mayor Steve Adler speak at a music related event. Austin’s leader gets the importance of space. Everything he said revolved in some way around Real Estate. It seems to be the centerpiece of a lot of discussions. Here were his major points and some thoughts on them from my short time here in the MediaTech space.
Affordability & Art
The mayor led off with the general statement that affordability hits the arts particularly hard. It’s no secret that on average musicians in Austin make very little money due to a combination of fierce competition and low to non-existent cover charges. This competition extends beyond music – Austin has a plethora of talented painters, graphic artists, directors and videographers – and yet a lack of established companies to tie these talents into regular jobs many find themselves struggling.
Building a revenue generating art industry of any kind requires network effects to succeed. Artists need to be near each other and have venues where they can share their work and be discovered. In many cases the internet has changed this game – and it is a frequent discussion point at our MediaTech events exactly how it has. But the physical venues are still preeminent. In fact this is one of the reasons we’ve decided to switch venues for each of our event – to bring each part of the city into the conversation.
Efforts like Black Fret, collective blue, and the myriad film festivals and events in Austin work to create opportunities for exposure and revenue for all types of artists. Unfortunately the real estate to support these artists has been increasing in cost at a high rate. Paired with long transit times and few viable solutions in open discussion there’s a major threat. One of the pieces necessary to sustain the growth of any art industry is affordability and the ability for network effects develop and grow.
Reasonable Rents for the Old, Fierce Competition for the New
There’s a lot that history and tradition adds value to a city. In San Antonio a stark example is the Alamo – visitors from all over the world understand the importance of that structure and it’s a common tourist site. It’s also an image of Texas culture and figures into the heritage that creates shared experiences. Austin has lesser examples of this in the capital building, the University of Texas and some of the downtown entertainment experiences. With rising rents and new pressures some older venues are losing their ability to compete economically with the new.
Many see value in historical venues and experiences that can be shared across time and Mayor Adler spoke about options the city has to preserve these. One of the most interesting ways being discussed is a philanthropic based investment to buy classic venues through an investment bond and supporting a lower than market rent to sustain the cultural benefit. He also pointed to a culture of merchandising and deriving value from these special experiences to make this worth the effort.
The Sound of Classic Venues vs the Sound of New Construction
The final addressed point was centered on the inherent conflict between the old and the new in the specific case of the Nook and the W Hotel. The W hotel moved in relatively recently and began to have noise problems with the Nook’s open ceiling venue despite knowing about the sound it would generate before building the hotel. There have been ongoing legal cases surrounding this disagreement and whose responsibility it is. One of the solutions involves a new type of speaker technology.
As technology shifts and cities change conflicts like this will continue to emerge. The latest moves to extend the curfew in the Red River district is another reminder of the delicate balancing act maintaining an exceptional and sustainable culture in a booming city requires. And surprisingly real estate will be at the center. The buildings built in the city, how they are built, how sections of the city are laid out and laws regulate them all tie together the backdrop for the experiences that make up everyday. As these examples and many more illustrate it’s difficult to get right.
We’ll be hosting a discussion on Real Estate in Studios and Spaces in late June, in Austin, where we plan to discuss similar themes to this article, with experts in affecting and affected industries.
Innovation in Where we Work
Intentionally, our last MediaTech event in Austin had a subtle focus on space as we turned our attention to Video & Film, studios, and worked with Impact Hub and SkylesBayne to help show the experience of the creative industry in physical space. We couldn’t have made that possible without the support of SkylesBayne’s Scott Studzinski so it was exciting to see their recent move even further into innovation, with the news of Michele Skelding joining as SkylesBayne CEO. The former Austin Chamber of Commerce VP of Innovation joining this inventive real estate firm reinforces the important roles that city planning and real estate play in a city’s culture.
SkylesBayne has long been focused market research and comprehensive strategy in commercial property. They’ve been helping companies in media, in Austin since 2006. Having, in 2012, helped turn an old auto garage into an Austin film studio, their listings since cite their work in dozens of media and technology related uses of space as part of the culture and economy there.
“Excited to bring disruption and real estate together at the intersection with tech and healthcare.” Michele noted of her work, “There is incredible opportunity for the unique needs of Austin’s next level of growth, blending the soul of our city with Austin’s strength as a economic powerhouse, with such a forward thinking and fast-growing firm.”
Sounds precisely like what we’re thinking in how the soul of a city drives innovation in media, and space.