AUSTIN (KXAN) — Another hotel is set to break ground in downtown Austin Tuesday. The Austin Marriott Downtown, across from the Austin Convention Center, will add more than 600 new rooms to the market.
The hotel, which will have a massive pool deck, two cocktail bars and 64,000 square feet of meeting space, is expected to open in the summer of 2020. The hotel is situated on East Cesar Chavez Street in between Trinity Street and San Jacinto Boulevard.
It’s another piece in what Mayor Steve Adler is calling the “Downtown Puzzle,” a plan that hinges on expanding the convention center and using hotel taxes to help the homeless community and make other downtown improvements. But it appears some hotels may be putting the cart before the horse.
Just a few blocks east of the Marriott Downtown is the Fairmont. Once that hotel opens in March, it’ll surpass the JW Marriott as the city’s largest hotel with 37 stories and 1,048 guest rooms.
Both the Hilton Austin and Fairmont are both using a convenient overhead walkway to the Austin Convention Center as a selling point to book rooms. In a news release, the new Austin Marriott Downtown said it’s opening directly “across the street from the expanding Austin Convention Center.”
But what’s getting lost in all of this is the fact an expansion — isn’t a sure thing. City Council has yet to vote on whether to approve what could be a $600 million expansion. And a vote isn’t anticipated before the end of the year.
When KXAN pointed that out, the Austin Marriott Downtown said via email, “The line should be changed and we will update our future press: As talks are happening surrounding the expansion of the convention center. ”
Drew Scheberle, with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, told KXAN, “We’ve had a significant expansion in the number of hotels here in the last 24 months.” He says a convention center expansion should come along with all those new rooms.
“The convention center is turning away about half of the conventions that want to come to Austin. We just simply don’t have the space in Austin to be able to accommodate those who want to give us money to come visit our city and conduct their business,” Scheberle said.
It’s an argument KXAN has reported on before, but despite repeated questioning and public information requests submitted to Austin’s convention and visitors bureau for a list of what groups they’ve had to turn away, KXAN has not seen any proof.
Back in May, Visit Austin President and CEO Tom Noonan said, “I’m not going to give a shopping list to another one of my competitive cities of the groups that we’re turning away.”
The chamber says the bigger risk is to not expand the convention center, but Council Member Ellen Troxclair says she isn’t so sure.
“The council has yet to make a determination on whether or not a convention center is necessary in order to keep people coming to Austin.”
Council recently enlisted the help of the University of Texas to study the need objectively. “Hopefully having a less-involved or a less-biased source will help us to really have the data and the information we need to make a fact-based decision,” Troxclair said.
Mayor Steve Adler said the study is a necessary step to move forward.
“The decision about expanding the convention center is a big decision. So we need to make sure we get all the information we can get… and that we get really good answers to the questions,” Adler said. “And they’re also going to answer the other questions about using that expansion, not only to help the ARCH downtown, but the indications are that we would also get another $3 million to $5 million annually that we could use on preserving the music industry in our city.”
The project team at UT is expected to report back to Council with its findings by the end of October.
Keep in mind, this is far from the first look at what a potential convention center expansion could look like. A consultant’s report back in 2015 outlined different expansion options. A KXAN investigation last year found projections made in another report from the same consultant 20 years ago — regarding event numbers and attendance — have yet to materialize.