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Plans for expanded Convention Center laid out for Council committee

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

As design consultants laid out the plans for an expanded Austin Convention Center to members of the Economic Opportunity Committee on Monday, they emphasized the inability of the current center to accommodate a growing city with a growing roster of visitors.

“The No. 1 reason we lose business now is because we’re not available or that we’re too small,” Austin Convention Center Director Mark Tester told City Council members.

Consultants hired to propose an expansion plan made it clear that from the onset, the focus was on adding non-hotel space to the center.

“Here in Austin, you have great hotel room supply,” said Alan Colyer of Gensler, a San Francisco-based design firm that the city hired in 2014 to develop a plan for expanding the center. “The one thing that was the weakest link were your facilities in terms of ability to host the types of shows that would be helpful.”

At an estimated cost ranging anywhere from $400 million to $600 million — not including the price of buying land — the proposed plan for the city’s convention center is to grow westward one block to San Jacinto Boulevard and four blocks north to Fourth Street. The extension would expand underground parking, more than double the center’s current amount of meeting space and add 56,700 square feet of ballroom space.

As far as outdoor space goes, Trinity Street would be blocked off to cars and maintained as a pedestrian-only street. Consultants at Monday’s committee meeting stressed that the current convention center has little hospitable outdoor space and appears unwelcoming to passers-by.

“Right now, the convention center in its current phase is like a fortress, and there’s nothing going on on the street level,” said Colyer. “We’re suggesting that the expansion will also build into those spaces along San Jacinto and along Cesar Chavez – spaces for restaurants, many of whom are probably already there and can stay in the same neighborhood. We would activate the streets much more than what currently happens.”

Plans also include installing a three-block park on the roof of the current convention center building.

In order to bring these designs to life, the city will have to acquire land. Council Member Ellen Troxclair asked whether eminent domain would be one way of collecting the land. Tester said yes, but that it was not their preferred option.

The committee took no action on the briefing. Acting Assistant City Manager Mark Washington said that once Tester and the consultants have developed a financial proposal, they will come back to the committee, eventually seeking full Council approval of the plan.

Photo by Joey Parsons made available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

This story has been corrected.

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