Multi-million dollar expansion proposed for Austin Convention Center

Austin Convention Center (City of Austin)
Austin Convention Center (City of Austin)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A multi-million dollar expansion of the Austin Convention Center is being proposed and this weekend city officials want to know if the public thinks it’s a good idea.

Several concerns have been raised, from the price tag, to the land the city would have to acquire to build the expansion and the impact if the Texas Privacy Act passes.

The proposed expansion is estimated to cost between $400 to $600 million. Five different scenarios have been proposed.

  • Do nothing
  • Move
  • Expand west over Trinity Street, redeveloping a block that has houses and several restaurants
  • Keep Trinity Street open and use sky bridge to get to the new expansion
  • Expand south across Cesar Chavez and use a sky bridge to connect the existing building to the expansion

At this point none of the additional land has been acquired by the Convention Center. City Council approval is needed for the center to get the land.

One of the big concerns from the public has been to avoid this area of downtown becoming a place only visitors go to. Some residents have expressed to council they want to see street level shops and restaurants as well as community spaces.

“That can certainly happen with convention centers as they get larger,” says Kathie Tovo, Austin Mayor Pro Tem. “There’s a real interest in street level activity and space for community events.”

It’s not clear how the expansion would be paid for. One idea is using the hotel occupancy tax; the money generated through conventions to pay for the expansion.

There is also concern about state lawmakers passing what critics call the “bathroom bill,” or Senate Bill 6. They say potential conventions wouldn’t look to Austin to host their events if the bill passes. The Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the city could lose an estimated $109 million between now and 2021.

“What I hear from those in the business community is the bathroom bill could have a devastating impact on the economic situation in Texas and on travel to the state, just as it has on North Carolina,” says Tovo.  “I think it would be a terrible idea for the state of Texas to adopt such a bill.”

The CVB has said several groups have expressed concern about the proposed law, but no conventions have cancelled. A final proposal isn’t expected to be presented to council for six months. By then city leaders will know if the “bathroom bill” will become a law which could impact an expansion decision for the Convention Center.

On Saturday, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez will host an open house at the Austin Convention Center from 10 a.m. to noon to hear the public’s thoughts.

In addition to the Convention Center the city is considering a partnership with Travis County to take over the former Palm School located along Cesar Chavez to utilize it for public space. The county is currently moving its employees out of the building to a different facility and has identified it as a property they might sell. The school has a historical designation so it would be required to stay intact. The school is adjacent to Palm Park, an area slated for redevelopment as part of the Waller Creek revitalization.

“I look forward to Saturday to what ideas they have and if this is a concept they support,” says Tovo. “I think there is a lot of deliberation that has to take place not only with the public but also with the council level about whether this is the right move forward for Austin.”

Kate Weidaw is live with how the Texas Privacy Act could impact plans to expand the Austin Convention Center, on KXAN TV. 

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