Willie Nelson to co-own ‘Austin City Limits’ studio

Willie Nelson played the “Austin City Limits” pilot in 1974, and when the long-running public television music show unveils its new studio in 2010, Nelson will be a co-owner of the place.

Nelson and nephew Freddy Fletcher will be partners in the studio and night club project with Austin-based majority owner Stratus Properties Inc.

Stratus will build the space as part of a $225 million project that will include a 35-story tower with 200 luxury condominiums atop a 250-room W Hotel; a new home for the Austin Children’s Museum; and shops and restaurants.

Unofficially dubbed Austin City Limits Studio Theater, the $15 million, 2,000-capacity venue will serve as a sound stage approximately 40 nights a year when KLRU’s “Austin City Limits” tapes. It will transform into a musically diverse House of Blues-style club on other nights.

“It’s very exciting to be in on something from the ground up,” Fletcher said. “When I brought the idea to Willie a few years ago, he loved it.”

The flexibility of the upcoming facility’s floor plan is key, Fletcher said.

“Shows can be seated or not seated. We can move the stage to the center of the room. We can produce live TV shows. We’ve even been talking to theater consultants about doing off-Broadway musicals,” he said.

The new venue is expected to raise the music show’s profile and provide locals and tourists an entertainment attraction in a venue that will hold more than five times the audience the show can accommodate in its existing cramped quarters on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

West Hollywood-based architectural firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios has been chosen to design the interior.

“What I liked about Rios Clementi is that they’re interested in being respectful to the long history of ‘Austin City Limits,'” said Beau Armstrong, chief executive of Stratus, which last year won a bid to purchase the vacant downtown property from the City of Austin.

Plans call for a gallery filled with photographs of past shows and a store to sell ACL souvenirs and memorabilia.

The licensing arrangements with “Austin City Limits,” a brand that has gotten stronger with the success of the associated Austin music festival that bears its name, are still being worked out, Armstrong said. The show is expected to share in the proceeds.

Groundbreaking for the development is scheduled for next summer.

Armstrong said his development team, which has scouted similar-sized venues, such as the Joint in Las Vegas and the Nokia Theater in New York, has been advised by concert giant Live Nation, which recently acquired House of Blues for $350 million.

Armstrong said he is close to reaching an agreement with a major concert promoter to operate the venue, but he declined to name it.

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