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City tackles convention center expansion with hotel tax rate hike

Council’s move could put county funds in jeopardy

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 returned to the dais after summer break in grand style, voting for a hotel-tax rate increase that would max out the amount allowed by the state, the Austin American-Statesman reported Friday. The city would devote the estimated $20 million per year the hike would garner to a planned $1.2 billion expansion of the Austin Convention Center.

According to the Statesman, the vote came on the heels of efforts by Travis County commissioners, who had a countywide vote in November to collect hotel taxes for the redevelopment of the Travis County Exposition Center. Since the city increased its rate to the maximum allowable by the state, however, the county won’t be able to increase its rate within Austin city limits, the Statesman reported, where the size and price of hotels generate the most revenue.

Shortly after the vote, travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt issued a statement urging the city to pay down its debt on a 2002 expansion of the convention center early with the new tax revenue in order to allow the county to begin collecting a 2-cent hotel tax. The city is currently scheduled to pay off that debt in 2029.

In late 2017, internationally renowned firm Bjarke Ingels released its proposed plan for redeveloping the Travis County Exposition Center and Austin Rodeo site as a 1.3-million-square-foot sports and entertainment complex. The vision includes the creation of the East Austin District—with multiuse buildings for restaurants, retail, and 28,000 square feet of youth facilities around the perimeter of the area. The plan also includes a 40,000-square-foot, open-air stadium that was briefly discussed as a possible venue for new Major League Soccer team Austin FC; that team will instead play in a new stadium approved by the City Council in 2018.

As the meeting extended further into Friday morning, the council also set an election for November on two propositions that originated from petitions.

The city approved two ballot measures called for by a citizen petition. One will be on a proposed ordinance that would require voter approval of city leases of city-owned land to private companies. The other would reallocate spending of hotel occupancy taxes nad are spent and require voter approval for major renovation or redevelopment of the convention center.