Buda OKs proposal for downtown arts center in old city hall building

A fine arts-focused activity center could be coming to downtown Buda after elected leaders gave the green light for a group’s proposal to reuse its old city hall facility.

By a 6-0 Aug. 6 vote, the Buda City Council approved a proposal from Inspired Minds Art Center, a Buda-area group, in collaboration with the Hill Country Theater, to turn the vacant building into an art center and community theater. Officials with Inspired Minds (IM) hope to get the center up and running by early 2020, pending approval of an agreement with Buda city staff.

Micah Grau, Buda deputy city manager, said Inspired Minds expects to spend $63,500 to remodel and renovate the interior of the old city hall building for its use. Officials with IM plan to incorporate three art classrooms, an art gallery, as well as leasing a community theater to Hill County Theater in what was once used as the city council chambers.

On the opposite side, IM is asking Buda to maintain heating ventilation and air condition (HVAC) units and landscape on the exterior, which could be negotiated at a later date.

Grau said IM’s plan had ties to both the city’s Downtown Master Plan and 2030 Comprehensive Plan and could have an economic impact to the area. Roughly 720 students each week are expected to go to the facility.

A second proposal, offered by Austin Angels, an area nonprofit assisting those in the foster care system, called for Buda to pay $100,000 to remodel the interior, but did not have ties to any city plan or the ability to bring in revenue or tourists.

Sinead Whiteside, co-owner of IM, said the facility is expected to be an anchor for culture in the downtown sector and could help Buda become a destination city. The center could also be a hub for artists who often don’t have many places to go to work on their craft.

One of the few art centers in the area is near downtown Austin.

Susan Guerra, co-owner of IM, said the center mirrors what residents might want to see from the city. A recent survey conducted by IM showed half of those who responded wanted more programming for adults in the Buda area.

Guerra said art helps to unify the community and enables people to understand other cultures.

“Arts help people to make new friends, connections, break language barriers and help people feel good about their community.”

Joining Guerra and Whiteside were more than a dozen residents who advocated for the arts center during a public comment period on the proposals.

Linda Chido, an area resident and urban planner with more than 20 years of experience, said supporting the arts is a “sound strategy” to stimulate business activity, attract businesses and increase the quality of life in the area.

Buda resident Michael Curley said art in Buda educates residents, but could also draw tourism to town, possibly helping to spur hotel occupancy tax (HOT) dollars.

The incorporation of a theater could give those involved, memories that will last a lifetime, said Barton Middle School theater educator Phillip De Los Santos.

“Even if you’re experiencing it as an audience member, live theater can move people in ways they never thought possible,” De Los Santos said. “Please let us show you what’s possible. I promise you won’t regret it.”

The Buda City Council’s decision comes months after officials began contemplating the best way to reuse the building, which has been unoccupied since the city’s new municipal facility opened in 2018.

In April, city leaders directed staff to reissue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for facility reuse after a prior callout did not generate any qualified candidates. Buda closed the RFP process in June with IM and Austin Angels the only two submissions.

While several city leaders said they favored the arts center, the majority felt they were “torn” by the decision as both proposals were worthy causes.

Council member Remy Fallon said picking one over the other was like trying to select a favorite child.

“These are two great companies and it was tough. I just believe for the downtown area, the art and theater will be a better fit,” said city council member Paul Daugereau.

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