Community responds to proposed convention center expansion

The Austin Convention Center on Aug. 26, 2016. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
The Austin Convention Center on Aug. 26, 2016. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The city of Austin says they’ve outgrown the city’s convention center, so they need to expand. The proposed expansion would be paid for through the city’s hotel occupancy tax. On Saturday, a town hall meeting was held for members of the community to express their opinions.

“I’m just not satisfied yet with the answers!” shouted one of the audience members.

Those packed into the town hall meeting at the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center remain skeptical on the idea of expanding the Austin Convention Center. The community says they want to know how the expansion would really help those in Austin and not just become another tourist destination.

“How is this going to benefit the low income families that are doing the work and helping to build our city too?” said one man sitting in the crowd.

Austin Convention Center leaders say the expansion would create more jobs, not just permanent but temporary and would pay a living wage, at least $13.50 an hour.

“We pay living wage at the Austin convention center, we do and so does our food providers by contract. So, all those temporary people that are getting work in a parking, event services, checking badges, we have seniors that are all working, sitting, checking baggage, they’re making $13.50 an hour,” said Austin Convention Center Director Mark Tester.

“We think improving jobs, making more jobs for employment, we think those are the ways of improving the lives of all people in the city,” said director of planning and urban design Alan Colyer.

Colyer has helped plan convention centers all over the country, he says each project has their own unique hurdles. In Austin, traffic and parking topped the list for those attending the town hall.

The flow of traffic is still being determined by the city as they consider this just as an idea for now. However, they say at least two new levels of underground parking should help alleviate parking concerns and correct some traffic issues as well.

The meeting was hosted by Austin City Council Members Ora Houston and Sabino “Pio” Renteria who say they have their own concerns. Renteria says he hopes the city will recognize that this impacts everyone and to make sure no one is left out.

“To make sure that the people from the neighborhood of color are behind us. We have been historically left out for so many years and we have always been on the outside looking in,” said Renteria.

The proposed area is across the street from the current convention center, on the west side of Trinity Street. This is the same spot where Brass House, PF Changs and Max’s Wine Dive are located. Officials say they have not reached out to these businesses to discuss purchasing their land since no final plans are in place, but they would like to see them built in to the new design.

“We have talked to a number of different land owners, but very selectively because we don’t have a master plan approved yet. We’ve been very respectful of that,” said Tester.

Those with the Austin Convention Center say a full plan will be presented to city council later this fall.

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