After years of trying to strike a balance between assuaging neighbors’ noise concerns without negatively impacting one of the beacons of Mill Valley’s arts and entertainment scene, the Sweetwater Music Hall & Cafe on Sept. 25 garnered the unanimous approval of the Planning Commission to install an enclosed, retractable awning system.

The awning, as seen in the rendering above by Heidi Richardson Architects, will cover 56 seats on the patio, up from 49 covered by the two large umbrella currently on the patio. 

“This checks all the boxes by being translucent, elegant and speaking to the eclectic legacy that defines the Sweetwater,” Richardson said, noting that her team had addressed the issues the commissioners raised at an August 28th study session, including changing portions of the awning’s fabric to glass. Commissioners had also directed Richardson to find ways to “activate the street” via the new enclosed space, and they backed the addition of some wooden panels at the street front, along with an events bulletin board as well as some additional lights.

The creation of covered, enclosed space will make the Sweetwater a more attractive option for private events, particularly during the rainy season, according to Madison Flach, the Sweetwater’s interim general manager. It will also reduce the number of concert attendees spilling out into the street during set breaks and after show’s end, she said.

Gordon Drysdale, the Sweetwater’s longtime chef, said, “One of the things we lose out on is being to serve people dinner for about six months of the year. I’d really like to be able to cook for people for the other half of the year.”

Peter Schumacher, co-owner of Bungalow 44 and Playa, agreed.

“We need to make sure we help businesses succeed downtown,” Schumacher said. “It’s not as easy as it may seem. We all look busy from 7pm to 9pm, but in order to have a vibrant downtown, we need to be able to serve people when it’s foggy and when it’s winter. The Sweetwater is such an amazing place. It not only does a great job for itself but it brings a lot of people to the downtown and help our business and others.”

Commissioners discussed the details of the awning proposal at length but unanimously supported it.

“This is the downtown commercial area – this is supposed be a vibrant, lively part of town,” Commissioner Urban Carmel said. “It’s supposed to be where people come and spend money. I live downtown. It’s not all great but it’s a tradeoff. This accomplishes two things: it contains noise more and it make the Sweetwater more economically viable.”

“This is a community treasure and we need to make sure it thrives,” Commissioner Anne Bolen said.

Whenever there is an event at the venue, the roof will be closed at 10am and all attendees will be kept within the enclosed area. The commission tabled a separate discussion on whether the new awning system would allow the venue to have amplified music during the day on weekends, as city officials need to study the issue further.

The 411: The the Sweetwater Music Hall & Cafe is at 19 Corte Madera Abenue. MORE INFO.

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