Travis Co. needs cooperation from Austin for Expo Center upgrades

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rodeo Austin draws 300,000 people every March.

Yet CEO Rob Golding knows it could be so much more.

“The infrastructure is decayed and dilapidated, the bathrooms are dilapidated, the ADA accessible facilities just don’t exist,” he said.

Travis County hopes the long-awaited improvements to the Rodeo’s Home — the Travis County Exposition Center — will be funded with the help of a 2% hotel occupancy tax.

A 2016 study called for the Center to be torn down and rebuilt or $470 million. That would include increasing the seating capacity to 15,000, with a larger meeting hall and exhibit space, as well as more parking.

Voters will have a chance to approve such a project in November, but the actual money is controlled by the City of Austin.

The county has asked the city to commit to paying down its convention center debt.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and other commissioners even went to City Hall to make the appeal in-person.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have some good talks about when we’ll have access to that 2 percent,” said Judge Eckhardt on Tuesday.

If the city does commit to paying down old debt, the extra hotel tax revenue would be available for the Expo Center by 2021.

If the city does nothing, the county won’t see the cash until 2029.

But the city could also re-finance its debt to pay for future Convention Center expansion. Then, the county might not get at the tax revenue for at least 30 years.

Golding says he’s hoping it never comes to this, and right now, he’s committed to the Expo Center.

He says he also can’t continue to hold his rodeo in the Expo, in its current condition.

When asked if Golding would seek another venue, Golding said: “This is our home, and I hope never to consider that, but we have a mission.”

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