The Music Commission wants to study the pros and cons of an expanded convention center
Friday, August 5, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki
Before deciding its position on the Austin Convention Center expansion project, the Music Commission will form a task force to study the details of the project, which is expected to cost up to $1.4 billion. Commissioners voted 7-1 at Monday’s meeting in favor of forming the task force, with Commissioner Scott Strickland voting against the decision.
The vote came after a presentation of the project by city and convention center staff, who outlined the timeline and key elements of the plan that will see the facility demolished and rebuilt over a four-year period.
The Music Commission is particularly interested in expansion plans due to the possible impact of new convention business that would increase hotel stays and generate more hotel occupancy tax revenue for the efforts of live music, cultural arts programs and historic preservation.
South by Southwest remains the primary building block for local convention business. But hotel and tourism advocates have said for years that space and infrastructure constraints after the latest expansion may lead interested event organizers to book elsewhere.
Commissioner Nagavalli Medicharla said convention center staff members should look for ways to make the proposed expansion beneficial to other parts of the local music industry beyond the positive impact on the Live Music Fund. of the city which provides grants to musicians and event organizers.
“South by Southwest brings significant hotel occupancy to the city, and so one of the ways in my mind to look at that is that convention center expansion leads to South by Southwest expansion or people coming to city,” she said. “But there are these key music festivals coming to town that are key drivers for generating revenue and driving hotel occupancy in the city, and you have to look at it from the perspective of how important that is. for music… and the fact that all of this will lead to an increase in hotel taxes to support music.
Currently, all political and administrative actions related to the expansion are on hold while Austin Convention Enterprises executives work to restructure the remaining debt from the most recent expansion to avoid the possibility of a default. payment when the installation is taken out of service. Once this agreement is reached, the city can launch the request for proposals for the design and construction work, which will make the schedule and cost of the project more certain.
Lauryn Gould was among several commissioners who expressed concern over the high price, given the unpredictability of convention and event business, especially after a years-long pandemic.
“It feels like a ‘if you build it, they’ll come’ situation, where if you build more space for conventions, then you’ll have more conventions,” she said. “I’m just wondering if there’s any data that you have that shows demand support, and that we can actually fill that space with more people, because I’ve gotten more information that makes me believe , to me and others there may not be that demand and (event activity) may be down due to the pandemic.
A 2020 study commissioned by the convention center presented an optimistic picture for future convention business, even given the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. This view has been contradicted by some analysts, who see increasing competition from other major cities and a move toward hybrid events as factors that would make expanding into Austin a bad business decision.
The westward expansion originally sought by the city council has been scrapped due to an impasse in purchase negotiations with landowners, meaning the site will have to expand vertically with significant private development in a section to accommodate its usage plans.
Strickland and other musicians are concerned about the impact the convention center and other developments around town are expected to have on the viability of live music venues in the city’s hot real estate market.
“As a musician playing music in the city, it’s already getting harder and harder for musicians to find venues to play, and it’s getting more and more expensive,” Strickland said. “That raises some flags in my opinion, and I know a big part of why the Live Music Fund exists is because we have the hotel occupancy tax coming from the convention center…but the cost of that to me is of great concern as this essentially means that bars already struggling to stay in the black will find it all the more difficult.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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