Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Story so far: part two

Our theatre is led by Don Toner, who has already renovated two buildings into functional performing arts facilities during his time in Austin. So when Don decided it was time to build another theatre, few folks doubted that it could happen. Which doesn't mean the process has been easy.

We started our search looking at old warehouses and lots on the outskirts of town. Eventually we were connected to the team at Catellus, a real estate development company leading the Mueller Austin Redevelopment. Our initial talks were very positive. We were intrigued by the vision Catellus and the City of Austin had for our old municipal airport. The town center at the heart of the development would be a vibrant community comprised of local businesses. The site seemed ideal for Austin Playhouse and we quickly grew attached to the vision of our new theatre at Mueller. However, soon after our discussions began, the management at Catellus changed hands, followed a few months later by a change in ownership. Our negotiations continued, but we lost some valuable time due to the changeover. The changes also affected other groups looking to move to Mueller like the Austin Childrens Museum and the AISD performing arts center.

Throughout the changes, Catellus maintained a focus on creating a well-planned, unique community in the heart of Austin. And because of that focus it soon became clear that Austin Playhouse at Mueller had the opportunity to be an even larger arts hub than we initially imagined. We reevaluated the project and brainstormed potential partnerships. The most exciting idea involved the nationally renowned nonprofit real estate developer, Artspace. Artspace has become an industry leader building and managing affordable live/work housing for artists.

In June of 2010 Austin Playhouse broughtArtspace to town to conduct a pre-feasibility study. Members of the City of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Department and the larger community were also involved in the forums. Artspace developments create vibrant artistic hubs in communities while providing affordable housing and workspaces for artists of all disciplines. The results of the pre-feasibility study were very positive in terms of community enthusiasm, need, and feasibility. A new plan was created to include four stories of affordable live/work housing and an art gallery above Austin Playhouse.

Meanwhile, the negotiations with Catellus continued and we started our final season at Penn Field. While we would love to be opening our new theatre in September, waiting a few more months for this dream to be realized is a small price to pay for a permanent home and a new arts center in Austin. The extra time has also allowed us to develop a customized funding plan that will secure Austin Playhouse's future. (Look for a blog post soon to learn all about our funding sources!)

We are thrilled to announce that we are finally at the end of all the talking and are moments away from signing a contract on a 17,000 square foot lot in the Mueller Town Center. We will be adjacent to the Austin Children’s Museum and near the Lake Park. It’s a beautiful setting right in the heart of the Mueller development. We can’t wait to show it to you.

Every time we thought this process was getting too difficult, we came back to the picture of our new professional theatre in the heart of Austin; a theatre with year-round, around-the-clock programming including children’s theatre, world premiere productions, classic favorites, concerts, film screenings, community events, and so much more. We thank you once again for your patience on this journey. Our patience is about to pay huge dividends for the artists and audiences of Austin Playhouse.

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