Call it a deus ex machina within the drawn-out and convoluted saga of Austin’s arts venue crisis, but an anonymous donor has given $1 million to an Austin theater company to build itself a theater.
Austin Playhouse announced today that it has received a $1 million contribution toward the purchase of property and the building of a two-theater venue.
Playhouse Artistic Director Lara Toner Haddock said the private donor wishes to remain anonymous. “We are thrilled with their generosity, but absolutely respect their wishes to remain anonymous.”
Haddock said that the non-profit organization anticipates having to raise an additional $500,000 to complete the project, but the meantime, it has also secured a $1.8 million loan to cover the majority of the building costs.
Haddock added that with Austin’s theater community in crisis over the lack of affordable venues, Austin Playhouse is committed to making its planned facility available to other arts organizations.
“The venue crisis is enormous for Austin’s theater community,” Haddock said. “(A new building) puts us in a position to help fill the gap and that’s what we intend to do.”
Austin Playhouse knows that from experience. In fact, it already has architectural plans in hand and paid for — designs completed in 2011 when the organization intended to build within the Mueller development northeast of downtown, once the site of Austin’s airport. Haddock said those building designs, by Scott Ginder now of Forge Craft Architecture, would be used on a new parcel of land. The designs outline a 17,000-square-foot two-venue building with a 227-seat main stage and a 99-seat second stage.
For its first decade, Austin Playhouse, founded in 2000, rented a 6,000-square-foot space in the Penn Field development on South Congress Avenue, one of the first conversions of warehouse-type buildings into mixed use office-retail-restaurant space. Austin Playhouse was one of the first tenants at Penn Field, and for years had affordable rent. Until it didn’t. By 2010, the theater’s monthly rent at Penn Field went from $5,000 to $12,000.
Austin Playhouse spent about three years trying to get its Mueller plans underway, even pitching a temporary tent-like building out of which it performed for a season. But after larger problems with developers’ own plans, Austin Playhouse abandon building on the Mueller site.
Since 2014, Austin Playhouse has operated in a space on the site of the former Highland Mall, a sprawling 1970s behemoth now repurposed to be the Austin Community College Highland campus. The theater occupies what was once a sporting goods store on the mall’s lower level and shares its stage with ACC theater productions. Austin Playhouse has two-and-a-half years remaining on its lease with ACC.
Haddock said Austin Playhouse plans to announce the purchase of a site within the first half of 2019, and building on a facility could start shorty thereafter.