Our city’s leadership class has, as you may have noticed, a new Best Big Cool Friend – Austin, Texas.
That relationship is not unlike that of Vince and Drama on “Entourage”– the devastatingly cool movie star (Adrian Grenier) who allows the hopeful loser (Kevin Dillon) to hang out with him.
Our city’s power people would like Colorado Springs to be just as cool, just as popular, and just as rich as Austin. That’d be great, not just for regional businesses, but especially for the arts.
As one of the trip participants, the estimable Bettina Swigger of COPPeR, noted in her blog that Austin supports the arts in a big way. Bettina wrote that:
- Live Music contributes $616 million in economic impact and $11 million in local tax revenue
There are 1,543 music-related businesses in Austin and 1,903 Austin music acts.
- The not-for-profit performing arts and visual arts generate $532 million in economic impact and $6 million in local tax revenue.
- The City of Austin provides nearly $5 million annually of the Hotel Occupancy Tax to contract with non-profit arts and cultural organizations for services rendered.
- Creative industries in Austin generate $2.2 billion in economic activity and create 44,000 permanent jobs.
Can we learn from Austin? The power people think so. They’ve contracted with an Austin firm, Angelou Economics, who charged us a big chunk o’ change to prepare the “6035” study. And last Friday, the featured speaker at the well-attended annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce was an Austin lawyer, Pike Powers, who has been a major player in Austin’s economic development efforts for many years.
But maybe the two cities are so dissimilar that we can neither learn from nor profit by Austin’s experiences.
Austin is a city of 760,000, the center of a metropolitan area of 1.7 million.
Like Colorado Springs, it has no major league sports teams-and that’s about where the similarities end.
Imagine a city that takes the best of Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs-and none of the bad stuff.
Austin has the state capitol, the best newspaper in Texas, the University of Texas, rational politics, a beautiful setting and an equable climate. Since the 1960s, Austin has had a reputation as a cool place to live-a place like Boston, San Francisco, Boulder, Marin County, Aspen, Miami, Charleston, or Santa Fe.
It’s famously quirky, but not nastily so. We have Focus, New Life, and Doug Bruce; Austin has SXSW, Austin City Limits, and Lance Armstrong. We’re about to ban homeless folks from camping along our polluted streams; Austin is the only city in Texas that has no ordinances forbidding women to appear topless in public.
We come close to matching Austin in a single category-Division I football teams. Our Air Force Falcons had a pretty good season, and they may well be invited to the Armed Forces Bowl. Undefeated and third-ranked Texas, which plays in the 100,000 seat Darryl Royal Stadium, may play for the national championship-and why not? They’ve won it four times.
Conclusion: Austin is a first-tier city, a powerfully vibrant metropolitan area with none of our handicaps. Vince can’t tell Drama how to become a devastatingly handsome chick magnet-he can only be a nice guy and let Drama follow him around like a lost puppy.
We’ll never be Austin.
Music? We couldn’t even keep 32 Bleu in business. Public funding for arts & culture? We’re closing the Pioneers Museum. Downtown skyscrapers springing from the ground? Our downtown parking lots have been vacant long enough to be nominated for the national register of historic places.
We’re not Austin-but we’re still a little bit cool. Maybe we could be some other city’s Best Big Cool Friend … Newark, New Jersey?