Will Council Say Yes to a Convention Center Expansion?

November 10, 2015 by Kate Harrington

City council members may soon make a decision on whether or not to put a $400 million bond on the November 2016 ballot that would fund a convention center expansion.

A master plan for the convention center, commissioned by the City, recommended a westward expansion that would mean a new structure across Trinity Street and would add more than 300,000 square feet of exhibit, meeting, and ballroom space. The two-story proposal also includes a new convention hotel and a walkway over Trinity.

Austin Convention Center Expansion Rendering
City of Austin / Gensler

Advocates of the expansion have said that space in the current facility is tight, and in a competitive convention market Austin won’t be able to bid on and win big events if it can’t show that it has the facilities organizers need.

Austin Convention Center Department Director Mark Tester told the Austin Chronicle about a third of the events that say no to Austin do so because the convention center doesn’t have enough space.

Advocates also point out that the expansion would be funded out of convention center revenue and two cents from the hotel occupancy tax, not local tax dollars, a big selling point in a tax-weary town.

conv_exp_site

But a “yes” vote from Council on the bond may not be a shoo-in. Council members Greg Casar and Ora Houston haven’t exactly embraced the idea, and advocacy group AURA has also come out against the expansion.

“The convention center industry nationally has been shrinking since the 90’s,” AURA writes in its blog. “Meanwhile, city after city has been chasing this business, building ever more elaborate, newer, and larger convention center spaces. Competing for convention center business is not a smart use of resources.”

Furthermore, AURA argues, the expansion would take a valuable piece of downtown property off the tax rolls – an argument that helped derail the efforts to build a new County Courthouse downtown – and cut into the Great Streets effort that’s bringing more vibrancy to that part of downtown.

Follow BuildingATX for more on the expansion as the proposal moves forward.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.