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Viewpoint: 10 Reasons Why Austin Needs Bigger Convention Center Austin Business Journal

Thursday, May 11, 2017


By now you may have heard discussions about a possible expansion of the Austin Convention Center. In short, expanding our convention center, which opened in 1992 and was expanded in 2002, would serve as an economic engine for all of Austin and will greatly benefit our business community.

It may not be obvious why an increase in large meetings, conventions and tourism to Austin would help those who already live here. There are some compelling reasons:

  • Economic impact. In 2015, Austin and the surrounding areas welcomed more than 24 million visitors — these visitors are responsible for a whopping $7 billion in economic impact to Central Texas.
  • Small businesses depend on income generated by conventions. Many businesses, including restaurants and retail shops that are currently enjoyed by local Austinites, would have never been sustainable without conventioneers spending their money as another dependable revenue source. These businesses especially benefit from conventions during weekdays, when locals are not necessarily visiting these establishments.
  • All local taxing jurisdictions benefit from revenue generated from the tourism industry. The yearly tax revenue for the City of Austin from tourism alone has reached $33-$38 million, which goes directly to the city’s general fund to help pay for projects throughout the city — helping to offset possible increases to property taxes.
  • Tourism means jobs. The leisure and hospitality industry is a powerhouse that accounts for 124,000 jobs and has grown to be our region’s third-largest employer, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
  • A diverse job market helps affordability issues and income inequality. We need to ensure those in the tourism business continue to not only have stable jobs, but that there are jobs available for minorities and other underserved communities that allow for growth opportunities and upward mobility, such as those in the hospitality industry.
  • More tourism means lower taxes. Without the travel, convention and tourism industry, Travis County residents would have to pay an additional $1,080 per household in state and local taxes to maintain current levels of service.
  • A convention center expansion does not increase your taxes. Current convention center operations and any future expansion efforts are 100 percent funded by the hotel tax and other convention center revenue — with no negative impact on the city’s general fund.

Austin is turning away business. Current demand for meeting and exhibit space in downtown Austin vastly exceeds the supply. The center is booked at maximum capacity — and forced to turn down nearly one-half of the requests for future bookings due to a lack of space or availability. These failed bids are currently resulting in an estimated annual loss of 160,000 room nights, $18 million in hotel revenue and more than $1.7 million dollars annually in hotel tax proceeds that could be used to support the convention center, the arts and other eligible programs or activities.

  • Tourism is a “clean” industry. Visitors come into town, they spend large amounts of money, and they leave. Tourism is not particularly impactful on parking or traffic. Most convention center visitors arrive in Austin by air, and a large percentage do not even rent a car while they are here. Visitors do not seek housing, schools for their children, sanitation services, health care or other services that increase the tax burden for the average Austinite.
  • Convention center expansion would serve as a catalyst to reinvigorate the entire eastern part of downtown. While it is too early to finalize any design elements, an expanded convention center could serve as a communal hub that locals love and tourists want to visit. Preliminary designs include numerous shops and restaurants on the street level, a possible outdoor park on the roof, community rooms for local groups to meet, and a stage for local musicians to play, among other features of particular interest to Austinites.

We urge you to join us in support of an expanded convention center that will benefit Austin in all of these ways. Go here to learn more.

Tam Hawkins is the president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, and Ali Khataw is on the board of directors of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. Hawkins and Khataw are both on the steering committee of A New Vision for Austin’s Convention Center.