As many of the businesses and spaces that make Austin a creative capitol – restaurants, bars, music and arts venues – continue to struggle during the ongoing pandemic, City Council unanimously passed the Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES) resolution in mid-September.
The hope is to support these civic institutions and boosting the local economy. The vote on program recipients is expected to take place on Thursday, October 1.
After the state issued more reopening plans for these businesses and spaces despite little to no on-the-ground financial relief, Chronicle staffer Austin Sanders explained in his September 18 update: “With federal and local relief money completely dried up (and no additional state or federal help in sight), Council essentially took an everything-under-the sun approach with the SAVES resolution by directing staff to explore a range of potential funding sources.”
Sanders continued, “Whatever amount of funding staff comes back with on Sept. 29, however, won’t be enough. [Leslie] Pool said the financial need could exceed $75 million, which would far exceed the amount of relief the city has set aside in local funds. Mayor Steve Adler said that the Oct. 1 meeting, where Council could decide which of Austin’s institutions live and which die, will ‘not be an easy one.’ He added, ‘There is not going to be enough resources to help everybody,’ and that the SAVES money should be viewed as a ‘really focused effort to try and save irreplaceable civic infrastructure.’ Adler concluded: ‘I feel relative to the need, we’re only going to save a precious few. I don’t want to create an expectation that this is a magic bullet here.’”
Local organization Good Work Austin (GWA), “a small business advocate group advocating at the city and state level for local small business and employee-friendly legislation,” shared their response to City Council in advance of the vote on Resolution 62.
“Dear Council Members,
While we applaud the City’s ability to find [one-third] of the money requested by childcare and [half] the money requested by music venues, we are confounded that over 1,000 eligible bars and restaurants, part of the sector that is Austin’s largest employer are being assisted along with arts organizations and “iconic” venues with only an [additional] $5 mil[lion]. Restaurants and bars generate the most revenue and have suffered the greatest losses. Meaningful recovery includes independent restaurants and bars hiring back their staff which can only happen if they are still open when business returns.
We ask that the City amend Resolution 62 in the following ways:
• The total amount of $5 mil for bars and restaurants does not begin to address the need of this sector of over 1000 eligible, locally-owned businesses who are suffering significant losses. Many have still not opened dining rooms out of concerns for the safety of their employees and guests. Many that are open in full are still seeing a reduction in sales of 40-70% compared to last year. They will be out of cash by the end of year without future assistance and will have to lay off staff again in order to get even that far. Experts are predicting a spike in COVID-19 cases in October following Labor Day and the opening of schools and bars as we saw in June/July. This will further damage bars and restaurants, many of whom will not recover from a third reduction of capacity by the State.
• Bars, restaurants and venues should be in one need-based pool. All can be open now to 75% capacity if they have access to a food truck or attached restaurant but many responsible owners of all of those kinds of establishments have recognized that revenue is not worth the health risk to the community caused by further transmission of COVID-19. Establishments should be prioritized not by type but by need, with BIPOC-owned establishments further prioritized as there is ample data that those businesses have had less access to existing loans and grants.
• We are perplexed that [one-third] of the money is coming from a homelessness assistance program. GWA has been fighting for contracts to help feed at-risk homeless and we will not participate in a program that involves borrowing money from them.
• The City memo concludes that the funds that are being reallocated here need to be replenished. Given that, we believe firmly that a more substantial fund of loans be created from funds earmarked for the Convention Center that would be replenished by the interest.
• We are shocked that there is no mention of other assistance. Between $65k-$90k/week has been going to national catering chains since April to help feed Austin’s food insecure populations. These contracts need to be awarded to local businesses. There is no mention of property tax relief tied to rent deferral/abatement or utilities tax deferral/abatement or personal property tax relief for businesses. We discussed that these would only be helpful if establishments made it far enough to take advantage of this relief but it is discouraging that they should be left out of this initial plan which is coming six months into the pandemic.
I hope that you will take these recommendations into consideration and increase the size of the fund created by SAVES to reflect the amount of businesses affected and the depth of the hardship they are facing.”
For more information, please see www.goodworkaustin.org.