Coalition Organizes to Support Hotel Tax Hike for Dallas Revitalization

Referendum is set for Nov. 8

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A massive plan to revitalize Dallas with other people’s money, that's the message for voters from a coalition of boosters supporting a Nov. 8 Dallas hotel tax hike election.

The hike will fund a new Dallas convention center and big improvements at Dallas Fair Park.

Supporters of the "Transforming Dallas Committee" huddled Friday to share their reasons for backing the referendum.

“And the best news yet is it will cost our local taxpayers nothing as it is a tourist tax, paid as part of our hotel occupancy tax,” Downtown Dallas Inc. President Jennifer Scripps said.

The State Fair of Texas is setting up to open soon at Dallas Fair Park, which is one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

But the park has a collection of old structures, including the Band Shell which has crumbling stairs and other obvious signs of neglect.

“Many of the buildings not having been meaningfully improved in decades, many of them in states of disrepair, do not reflect on us well on us as a city.” Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen said.

Fair Park would get $300 million to upgrade 6 buildings including the Band Shell. The Cotton Bowl would get better concourses. The Automobile Building would get restoration.

“It is one of the most significant historic preservation projects you will see in the State of Texas,” said Former Dallas City Council Member Veletta Lill, a preservation advocate.

Contractors and tourism people would get thousands of jobs, members of the coalition said.

“And this opportunity with $1.5 billion of construction spending is an opportunity for us to have wealth creation,” said Dallas Citizens Council CEO W. Kelvin Walker.

Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano said she will work to promote Black and Hispanic participation.

“Those contractors need to look like our city and I think they need to have a big part of it,” Medrano said.

Most of the money would go toward replacing the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

Craig Davis, CEO of Visit Dallas, the agency charged with selling Dallas to meeting planners, said the city has lost 1,000 events to other cities over the past 15 years because the existing facility lacks features other cities have.

“The bottom line is that our customers are telling us that it no longer fits with their needs for conventions in the modern day,” Davis said.

Parts of the convention center date back to 1957. It has been expanded several times. Davis said it has $500 million in deferred maintenance.

State Representative Rafael Anchia said the formula to help Fair Park and the Convention Center was the result of heavy lifting at the Texas Legislature.

“This has been the culmination of maybe a decade of discussions we’ve been having about how we could drive revenue to downtown and Fair Park,” Anchia said.

The lawmaker said the money and jobs will provide benefits to neighborhoods south of I-30 that have not received sufficient attention in the past.

“This is going to be a win for a lot of different people that have been left behind in Dallas,” Anchia said.

If the voter referendum fails, the leaders assembled Friday said there might be ways to pursue convention center changes in the future, but it would be difficult to raise $300 million for Fair Park some other way.

“To say this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the appropriate investment in this national historic landmark of great significance is not an overstatement,” Luallen said.

In February when the Dallas City Council voted to proceed with design of a new convention center and again in May when it voted to put this referendum on the November ballot, the only member voting against it was Cara Mendelsohn.

She had 17 points of opposition, mainly on the convention center issues.

Among other things, Mendelsohn questioned whether convention business will return to prior levels after the COVID-19 pandemic. She said adjacent landowners who will benefit from the improvements should participate in the risks.

Mendelsohn questioned how the existing building was allowed to fall into such disrepair with years of underfunded maintenance and what assurance taxpayers would have that the same decay would not be allowed again. 

Mendelsohn said there is no agreement in place with the state to construct a building over the interstate highway as planners propose.

Council Member Mendelsohn did not respond to a request for comment Friday as the boosters were organizing their campaign to sell voters on the benefits of the referendum.

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