Dallas City Council Approves Convention Center Plan

The concept approved Wednesday will guide additional planning but the actual construction is years away.

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The Dallas City Council Wednesday approved plans for a new $2 billion convention center.

Supporters said removing the obsolete Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and repositioning a new one over I-30 will transform Downtown Dallas and keep convention business thriving.

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn was the only no vote.

She cited 17 reasons for opposing the plan and had more to say before her time to speak expired.

Among other things, Mendelsohn said decades of deferred maintenance allowed the building to decay.

“I want to know and the taxpayers deserve to know, how did that happen and how do we know it won't happen again,” Mendelsohn said.

The proposed location would put the new convention center right beside the proposed station for high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas.

“There's no agreement about the financial participation of the wealthy adjacent landowners who stand to gain unbelievably from this deal,” Mendelsohn said.

Supporters of the plan said removing the old building will clear a large area for new development that could benefit everyone. Several city council members said they want affordable housing included as a component of the new development area.

Amy Tharp, Acting President of the booster group Downtown Dallas, Inc, said the council's action keeps downtown momentum going.

“This effort has evolved into a rare chance to reposition the southern half of downtown into a well-connected vibrant neighborhood,” she said.

AT&T Performing Arts Center representative Chris Heinbaugh was a television reporter and then an aide to former Mayor Tom Leppert during past convention center renovation plans.

“I am here to urge you to stop the patch up. Tear it down and build a new convention center,” Heinbaugh said.

Several tourism business people took turns speaking to the city council before the vote.

“Many of the cities that Dallas competes against for meetings and conventions have recently upgraded,” said Hilton Dallas Lincoln Center General Manager Brett Kraft.

Hospitality people said the plan is good for hotels around the city.

“We believe that moving forward today, it will be a game-changer for the City of Dallas,” Hotel Association of North Texas Director Traci Mayer said.

No regular Dallas property taxes or sales taxes that fund other city services would be used, supporters said. The expense would fall chiefly to Dallas visitors.

Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said she attended Wednesday’s meeting in person instead of virtually to be sure there were no communication issues about the financial details.

“I did not want there to be any difficulty hearing me or any transmission issues because this is such a critical issue that we get it right and we don’t have misinformation,” Reich said.

A state funding formula for additional hotel sales taxes that would help pay for the new convention center would also send money to Dallas Fair Park, which is an extra selling point for supporters.

“So, I see this as nothing but a win all around. This is a win for our tourists. This is a win for Dallasites. This is a win for our business community,” said Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who represents the Fair Park area.

Councilman Omar Narvaez who leads the City Council Committee that spent months reviewing the plan was the top cheerleader Wednesday.

“We’re already on the map but this is taking us to being an exceptional place, a place that people want to come and visit,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote only sends the plan further for 30% design of the preferred option. Additional future decisions on construction and funding will be required. Bonds for financing are not expected to be sold until November 2023.

A November voter referendum will be necessary for the additional hotel tax that will help fund the convention center and Fair Park. Expect to hear more promotion of the plans from supporters before voters have their say.

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