Task force still split over whether to recommend 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 Visitor Impact Task Force is still split over whether to recommend a convention center expansion to the Austin City Council. On Friday, KXAN Investigates reported projections made 20 years ago about events and attendance have yet to come true. Tuesday, KXAN learned leaders tasked with making a recommendation about whether to spend the city’s hotel tax to make the convention bigger still aren’t united.

Some argue the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which would be used to fund an expansion, could be put to better use – like the arts, music venues and parks that also attract visitors.

“To me it sounds like we’ve got a lot of yes’s, a lot of probably’s or maybe’s and then we have two that are no,” Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Tom Noonan said.

ACVB is pushing for what could be a $600 million expansion.

“We have turned away in the last three years about 300 pieces of business, over $2 million room nights, and $1.3 billion worth of lost business because we were either too small or sold out,” Noonan said.

Bill Bunch, with the Save Our Springs Alliance, has followed discussions closely and filed a public information request asking for documents naming groups ACVB has had to turn away.

“That’s fundamental to the case they’re trying to make for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand this facility,” Bunch told KXAN.

KXAN asked Noonan why ACVB isn’t naming names.

“I’m not going to give a shopping list to another one of my competitive cities of the groups that we’re turning away, he said. “Several of these groups are Austin-centric, these cities may not know about them. We’re bidding on them actively for another year, I don’t want to tip our hand.”

A question still on the table for some task force members, like Stephen Sternschein, president of the Red River Merchant’s Association, is the profitability of the convention center.

“What I asked today and what I’ve asked about throughout this process is – a much clearer picture of how much revenue, how much economic impact convention center activities have had on Austin, on tourism, overall,” Sternschein said.

An answer he hopes to get next week, at the task force’s second to last scheduled meeting. The group is expected to provide recommendations to city council at the end of the month.

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