Austin Opry House music venue could be restored, architect gets first greenlight

An architect is setting the stage to possibly restore an old Austin music venue, the Austin Opry House, a.k.a. the Austin Opera House.

"What we are trying to do is get a zoning overlay removed, so we can use the existing zoning to build housing that buffers the neighborhood and reopen the Austin Opera House," said Richard Weiss, architect and musician.

Decades ago, the Austin Opry House was a staple in South Austin, attracting headliners.

"We are asking to preserve 17,500 of the original 42,000 square-feet venue. We want to restore it and create a place like it was in the 70’s and 80’s and really foster live music," said Weiss.

If he gets the okay, Weiss is planning on not only restoring the venue, but building housing, with some affordable units for musicians, on top and around the venue. But the area is now surrounded by a neighborhood, and dozens spoke against the rezoning request at Austin City Hall Thursday. 

"With the size it's in and the location it's in it has proven to be problematic before," said Brian Beattie with the Greater South River City Neighborhood Plan Contact Team.

Beattie has lived in the neighborhood for decades.

"I love music, I love concerts and I enjoy shows at the Opera House, the problem has always been exactly what the problem is now, there is no access to a main road," he said.

He and many others who signed a petition against the plan all agree that this spot is not good for a huge live music venue.

"Everything exits out into the middle of the neighborhood after everybody has been excited and drinking all night," said Beattie.

"As much money as people are throwing around in a town like this, they could bring it back and do it right, and put it in a place where it can survive and thrive," said Beattie.

The council member representing the district says she is looking at all perspectives here.

"I want to be sure that as we talk about this it doesn't become a conversation whether we do or do not support the music industry," said Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council District Nine.

It is clear, both sides have a love and appreciation for Austin’s music history, but disagree on where to keep it preserved.

"We would not have been the live music capital of the world without it and I don’t know how we will continue to be that without it," said Weiss.

The item passed on the first reading. Zoning cases like these need three readings to be finalized.

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