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Friday, December 22, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Council commissions study of convention center expansion

Researchers at the University of Texas are going to ask the question that seems to be on every Austinite’s mind these days: “Can new, programmatic spatial configurations and economic models for urban convention centers be applied to downtown Austin in a meaningful and community-based manner?”

That’s the prime mystery a study commissioned by City Council last week to be conducted by UT’s Center for Sustainable Development will seek to solve.

Researchers will take a deeper dive into questions raised by the proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center as recommended last May by the Visitor Impact Task Force. They will compare the convention center’s competitive standing relative to venues in peer cities, model potential economic effects, identify physical constraints of potential expansion configurations, and look at alternatives for reorienting or enlarging the existing building.

The $250,000 contract approved by Council would be good for one year upon its signing.

Attorney Bill Bunch, a vocal critic of the task force’s recommendation which would fund the expansion with a 2 percent hike of the Hotel Occupancy Tax encouraged the passage of the resolution authorizing staff to negotiate and sign the contract with UT.

“It’s really great that you’re doing this and stepping back from the rush into expanding the convention center without having real information that you need (in order) to look at that real carefully,” Bunch said at the meeting.

Before the vote, Mayor Steve Adler, who is boosting the expansion as a key piece to what he has dubbed the “downtown puzzle,” relayed concerns he said he has heard from the live music sector and advocates for the homeless, both of which would benefit from aspects of his plan.

“They had a concern that this study was an attempt to preclude or otherwise stop the convention center expansion discussion and consideration, and I want to know if that’s the intent of this resolution,” Adler asked the resolution’s sponsor, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.

Tovo told him that the proposed study at hand would be a vehicle to satisfy a request built into a resolution passed in late September that requested from staff more information to help Council make a future decision about the proposed expansion.

“I think it’s probably of no secret to anyone who’s been following this conversation that the dais is quite divided about the discussion of whether to move forward on a convention center expansion,” Tovo told him. “So we needed some ability to help us discern what the best path is forward, and I think some additional information is helpful.”

Council approved the interlocal agreement with UT on a 10-0 vote, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair away from the dais for the vote.

Non-dropframe at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Convention Center: This city department operates the downtown convention center and associated events.

Hotel Occupancy Tax: A tax on the rental of a room in a hotel or other rental properties (including apartments) that cost 6 percent of the cost of a room.

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