Austin Playhouse purchases property, plans two-venue theater

The 2.8 acre site in Northeast Austin will be home to a two-venue theater


Longtime non-profit theater organization Austin Playhouse has just bought its first home.

Playhouse leaders confirmed that on Thursday, the organization had signed closing papers on a 2.8 acre site at 1717 E. Anderson Lane, along the Hwy. 183 frontage road in Northeast Austin.

Artistic director Lara Toner Haddock said the site will be developed into a two-venue theater that will serve as Austin Playhouse’s home and will also serve as a rental facility for other arts organizations. Haddock said the property’s purchase price of $1,280,664 was primarily funded by a $1 million anonymous contribution and a bridge loan from Comerica Bank.

“Two years ago we began conversations with our lead donors and started actively searching for a site that would serve Austin Playhouse and the arts community,” said Haddock. “In late 2018 we secured the $1 million commitment and the loan from Comerica bank. The site on East Anderson is a great site today and with Austin’s projected growth in the area is going to be an amazing site in a few years.”

Haddock said a building campaign to raise $700,000 is underway and $50,000 has already been contributed. a 227-seat main stage and a 99-seat second stage. The possibility of adding an intimate black box space is being considered, Haddock said.

The organization already has building designs in hand. In 2011, Austin Playhouse secured architect is Scott Ginder of Forge Craft Architecture to design a 17,000-square-foot two-venue building with a 227-seat main stage and a 99-seat second stage. The building was intended for a site within the Mueller development, a project that fizzled when the Mueller developers hit stumbling blocks.

Haddock said those original building designs will be adjusted and used on the new parcel of land. Haddock said bids have been already received from civil engineers and one will be engaged next week. The permitting process is expected to last up to six months with ground breaking estimated for late 2019.

In the meantime, Austin Playhouse will remain in its current Austin Community College Highland Campus location through June 2021.

Austin Playhouse is the second non-profit arts organization that recently has taken the rare — and fortunate — step to buy real estate as a hedge against Austin’s ever increasing inaffordability. Earlier this year Colab Projects, a visual arts presenter, purchased a .62-acre empty lot in East Austin, and plans to build complex of studios and exhibition space.

Started in 2000, Austin Playhouse first performed on the campus of Concordia University. For a decade, the theater company leased a renovated space at Penn Field in South Austin, until, in 2011, the rent ballooned to $16,000 a month. That’s when the hunt for a permanent home began. After the Mueller plan crumbled, the theater company next went ACC’s Highland campus, a former shopping mall in the midst of transformation to an educational campus. Austin Playhouse renovated two mall storefronts at ACC into a theater.

Producing artistic director and Austin Playhouse founder Don Toner said: “I’m looking forward to building a home for Austin Playhouse where Austin artists will thrive and emerging groups will have a secure space to develop their work.”

A rendering for the Austin Playhouse theater designed for the Mueller redevelopment.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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