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City staff calls for Convention Center expansion

Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Michael Kanin

A memo from City of Austin Real Estate Services Officer Lauraine Rizer to Austin City Council members and Mayor Lee Leffingwell notes that there is “solid evidence for the need to expand the Convention Center.” And to do it, Rizer is calling on the city to acquire a section of downtown known as Block 8.

In the memo, Rizer says that on Wednesday the city sent the property’s current owner a Letter of Intent to Acquire the area for public use. The property in question sits next to the Convention Center along East Cesar Chavez. Rizer calls the area “underdeveloped with a mix of one- and two-story buildings” and notes that “given the block has frontage along East Cesar Chavez, is adjacent to the Convention Center and is unencumbered by any Capitol View Corridors, it is foreseeable that the block is ripe for more intensified development in the near future.”

Though she adds that the city will “make a good-faith attempt to acquire these properties such that the end results are comparable to arm’s length transactions,” Rizer also mentions that Austin could elect to proceed under imminent eminent domain.

Rizer is referring to a March 2014 Council authorization for a Long Range Master Plan for the facility. Though she acknowledges that the work on that effort is “not … finalized,” she is clear about the need. This, she writes, is based “on a number of factors, including surveying of potential and current customers and a complete market analysis.”

Rizer continues, saying that “the Long Range Plan is expected to include a recommendation that the Convention Center be expanded to include substantial additional exhibit, ballroom and meeting space.” All told, Rizer suggests the city will need to acquire “the equivalent of three to four City blocks” to accumulate enough room for the additional space.

For that, Rizer turns to Block 8. “After evaluating and discussing all viable options for expansion with numerous stakeholders, the (Austin Convention Center Department) has determined that the acquisition of Block 8 of the original City of Austin is necessary for the future viability of the Austin Convention Center.”

The city ran into legal trouble over a condemnation associated with the construction of the original Convention Center’s parking garage.

Rizer’s complete memo is posted below.

Download (PDF, 120KB)

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