AUSTIN (KXAN) — A long-awaited report from the University of Texas says that Austin has outgrown its Downtown Convention Center.

Researchers at the University’s Center for Sustainable Development looked into outcomes for the future of the center and the surrounding area. 

City councilmembers approved the research in 2017.
“Austin has, unfortunately, a history of doing nothing on a number of issues but I think this moment in Austin, at this moment for this council, the message is clear from Austinites, it’s time to get to work,” Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan said.

The report shows the leisure and hospitality industry contributes 15 percent of Austin’s total economy — up from 11 percent in 2000 and more than the state average of 13 percent.

Five ideas were presented to Austin’s City Council Tuesday.

The first scenario is a “no build,” keeping the center as it. The second highlights the future private development in the area if the center is not expanded. The third was generated from a 2015 proposal that would include a new convention center west of Trinity Street, topped with a private mixed-use tower. 

The fourth is divided in two parts:

  • First, a new facility west of Trinity Street with a few minor differences including more pedestrian space.
  • Phase two would demolish the 1992 portion of the center and replace it with a new facility, public space and private development.

The final concept — also in two parts — would build the largest new center west of Trinity Street in comparison to the rest of the ideas. This would allow the city to demolish the current center to construct a new building that would have room for private development.

“We want to ensure that if we do decide to expand that we’re not also losing property tax revenue that we might have otherwise collected this is an opportunity for innovation and if there’s one city in America that’s going to knock innovation out of the park it’s going to be Austin,” Flannigan said. 

The report also examines the importance of placemaking to create public spaces that Flannigan said would give locals and visitors the option to enjoy not just the convention center but the area surrounding it.

The researchers’ public presentation will feature more details as well as discuss Austin creeks including the Waller Creek Master Plan, the southeast quadrant of the city and how to incorporate the potential new convention center as well as culture and community.

Financial Impact

Flannigan said not one penny from tax dollars will go into the funding of this project because it will be funded by the tourism industry through the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax.

The report, however, says that incremental sales and hotel tax increases would not be enough to cover the capital costs of such an expansion.

There could also be additional property acquisition costs, as one of the options would require the city to take over the land west of Trinity Street.

Flannigan believes more revenue could come from the development itself, by increasing the tax base in the area.

He added the potential outcome for the convention center could be a mixture of the ideas the researchers presented on Tuesday. 

South By Southwest and Austin’s Space

“SXSW is bigger than the convention center and the convention center is bigger than SXSW,” Flannigan said. “This isn’t just one event that we’re building a facility for. This is about the jobs that the tourism industry represents, the economic power that the tourism industry can bring and the fact that we have a more robust tourism industry the more we can slow the growth of property taxes.”

South by Southwest is one of the city’s largest events and it holds a big chunk of its festival at the convention center.

In 2014, the annual conference, trade show, and festival generated $315.3 million, compare that to last year and it went up more than $35 million to a total of $350.6 million.

The 2019 numbers have yet to be released. 

However, if the city was to select a no build option, what would this mean for South By’s future as it continues to grow and bring in thousands to the Capital City. 

KXAN reached out to SXSW officials and a spokesperson responded: “While SXSW strongly endorses the expansion of the Austin Convention Center, we have no plans to leave Austin regardless of the outcome.”

The Future of Transportation

Just last week, Capital Metro broke ground on a new downtown MetroRail station. The station is and will continue to be located adjacent to the convention center. CapMetro officials said the new station will be able to keep up with the growth.

The new station will be feature three tracks and two platforms. CapMetro officials said they will also be constructing a new plaza that will take over a section of Fourth Street near Trinity Street. This will turn Neches Street into a cul-de-sac.

Construction will take two years. CapMetro officials said the current Downtown Station was just meant to be temporary.