City Council Again Discusses Austin Opera House Redevelopment
By Veronica Apodaca
The dispute over a proposed 1,200-seat music venue on the site of the old Austin Opera House continued to flare during an Austin City Council meeting Thursday.
Some Austin residents see the project as an exciting step forward for live music in the city. It has support from Austin’s music community, including former Austin Opera House owner Willie Nelson. Opponents are wary of the traffic the venue would bring to the surrounding neighborhood.
“What we don’t support is a 1,200-person venue that is accessed off of a neighborhood street,” said Laura Toups, a member of the South River City Citizens neighborhood group.
The property, located at 200 Academy Drive off South Congress Avenue, has been the subject of debate since developer Chris Wallin and architect Richard Weiss announced their intention to reopen the former Austin Opera House in 2021.
Wallin and Weiss aim to restore the space to its former purpose. In addition to a performance venue, the site will also feature underground parking, a museum and a residential development.
“There’s a gap in venue sizes, and there isn’t any single indoor venue that’s between 800 and 1,200 occupants in the city’s music infrastructure, so I think having that size venue will really help fill that gap,” Weiss said.
Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo, the representative for District Nine, where the 200 Academy project would be located, said that her office has received comments from residents who are concerned about the large amount of traffic that the music venue would bring to residential areas.
At a Jan. 27 city council meeting, opponents of the project were willing to compromise by agreeing on a smaller amount of space for the project, reducing it from 17,500 to 3,000 square feet. However, Wallin maintained that the full amount of requested space would be necessary for the proposed music venue.
“Our goal is to preserve 17,500 of the original building in order to save the main room and stage where Willie Nelson introduced Austin music to the world,” Wallin said in his remarks at the January meeting.
During the meeting on Thursday, business owner Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul on South Congress near 200 Academy, said he hopes that the construction of the new venue will help his businesses.
Wertheimer described the previous relationship between the Continental Club and the Opera House as being mutually beneficial. His businesses attracted patrons from the Opera House concerts. “If the larger capacity venue can come back on board, I think the synergy between a large …venue and small clubs like the Continental and C-Boy’s in such close proximity to each other is essential to help each other out.”
Brian Beatty is an Austin musician and record producer who previously performed at the Opera House and supports building new music venues. Beattu argued that smaller venues than the proposed project were needed in order to make the location accessible for traffic.
“We would embrace one or even two small clubs with staggering start and finish times,” Beatty said. “A large club in this location would be a greater risk today than it ever was.”
The Austin Opera House opened as a performance venue in 1977 after being purchased by musician Willie Nelson. It continued to host musical acts until 1992, when the property was sold and transformed into office spaces.
A decision about the proposed redevelopment of the Opera House is expected by the end of 2022.