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Exclusive: Former Seaholm promoter steps up to save Austin Music Hall

A local promoter who helped produce popular events at Seaholm Power Plant is stepping up to revive the recently foreclosed Austin Music Hall.

A visit to the hall today by President Barack Obama for a fundraising appearance is doubling as the public unveiling of Austin-based Electric Company as the new management group for the 4,000-capacity space that has failed to thrive as a concert venue since a high-profile remodeling and expansion in 2007.

“There’s no reason that place can’t survive,” said Jason Hicks, owner of Electric Company, which will operate the venue and work with outside bookers to bring in big name music talent and other events. “I’ve been disappointed at what’s happened to it, but after digging into it I feel every issue there can be fixed.”

As former event producer for Rare Magazine/Rare Events, Hicks worked to produce Rare’s 2010 Uncorked New Year’s Eve with Flosstradamus and the 2009 Live at Seaholm concert featuring Broken Social Scene. After opening Electric Company in mid-2010 he produced several more large-scale events and was part of the effort to throw Kanye West’s high profile 2011 SXSW performance at Seaholm before that venue began its current redevelopment.

 “As it was, this was not a rock and roll place and it really felt like event planners were working against the setting when they came in here,” Hicks said. “I’m going to run this building and take all comers, because we need to do what’s best to keep this venue alive.”

Hicks and Houston-based OmniBank, which took ownership of AMH at a May foreclosure auction, have started a multi-stage renovation of the space that’s so far seen $250,000 in cosmetic work, bar upgrades, a new lighting grid and the first of many improvements to the room’s much-maligned sound system.

Those upgrades will get a test at Obama’s appearance today as well as at Thursday’s concert with comedy rockers, Tenacious D. Hicks said subsequent improvements to the sound system and more will come based on how the room sounds during a live concert.

“As it was, this was not a rock and roll place and it really felt like event planners were working against the setting when they came in here,” Hicks said. “I’m going to run this building and take all comers, because we need to do what’s best to keep this venue alive.”

Hicks said local promoters from companies like Live Nation and C3 Presents — which on Monday announced an AMH show with Snow Patrol and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds — have shown enthusiasm at the prospect of having the building back in active circulation. The venue will host C3's after party shows during Austin City Limits Music Festival weekend in October, and it is booked for events in November when Austin hosts an F1 auto race at the new Circuit of the Americas race track.

Hicks said he expects the Music Hall to quickly ramp up to hosting around 200 events a year, with live music taking up a small, but high profile percentage of the calendar.

“It’s a flexible space with lots of configurations that can go from 300 people to around 3,600 between the upstairs and the downstairs,” Hicks said. “We’re going to be able to assist and make pretty much anything that you want happen in there.”

Although its capacity gave it unique placement among Austin’s live music venues, complaints over AMH’s sound system, atmosphere and sight lines dogged it almost immediately after it reopened in 2007 after a reported $5 million renovation that expanded it to more than 43,000 square feet.

While it infrequently hosted high-profile acts like The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure and David Banner, it never found traction or a sense of identity and gradually lost out to newer, premium venues like Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater.

Financial issues eventually caused former owner Direct Events of Austin (which still lists AMH as one of its venues on its website along with The Backyard and La Zona Rosa) to lose control of the property, ushering in its new ownership and management.

And though taking on the rehabilitation of one of the city’s most maligned music spaces — take a look at these Yelp! reviews — has meant lots of long days and nights over the last six weeks, Hicks said the potential is easy to see and capitalize on.

“We’re going to be really busy once ACL Fest and F1 weekend come around, and I hope to really re-establish its relevance during SXSW next year,” he said. “Promoters were disappointed when the building basically went out of the local inventory, and people know that there’s a strong need for this room in this city.”

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