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Convention center expansion plan moves forward at city

Vision includes preservation of county-owned Palm School

Exterior of seven-story glass and concrete building, photo shot from corner across the street.
Austin Convention Center
John Tornow/Creative Commons

The Austin City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to move forward on a plan to expand the Austin Convention Center, the Austin Monitor reported Friday.

The resolution directs city staff to begin gathering information needed to move forward with a plan that would include demolition, rebuilding, and expansion of the current convention center.

It also calls for the preservation of the historic Palm School nearby and seeks to incorporate the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, the Rainey Street historic district, and Waller Creek Park into the renovation.

The resolution represents a turnaround for Councilmember Kathie Tovo, whose 27-page proposal was adopted with revisions at Thursday’s meeting. Tovo was initially skeptical toward the idea but shifted her position to support an option—called Scenario 5—recently presented to the council in a study by the Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Texas School of Architecture.

The ultimate fate of the county-owned Palm School—an elementary school that served a primarily Latino community in a segregated Austin for 84 years prior to its closure in 1976—is still up in the air. According to the Monitor, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said it would consider selling or leasing the property to the city but does not intend to donate it. The Monitor also reported that Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez sent a letter to City Manager Spencer Cronk after the council’s vote; it expressed interest in negotiating with the city on a purchase and noted that the Commissioners Court will be discussing restrictive covenants on the property at its June 4 meeting.