Dallas City Council to Vote Today on $2 Billion Plan for New Convention Center

Supporters say the existing building is obsolete compared to venues in other cities competing for business

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A $2 billion plan to replace and demolish the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center goes to the Dallas City Council Wednesday for approval.

Supporters claim the building is obsolete compared with convention centers in other cities that are luring business from Dallas.

Critics said declining convention business may not justify the investment and too little input has come from residents outside the tourism industry.

The TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) convention is happening this week in Dallas. TCEA supports technology in schools.

Convention visitor Lyndsay Caulkin from North Carolina has a cart to pull through the building. She said she noticed stairs that connect various additions in the building, which have grown during the past 60 years.

She also had issues with elevators.

“When it opens there's no signage to tell you where you are going. So, that would be helpful if they could improve that for sure,” she said. “I thought it was nice, but new is always better, bigger in Texas, right?”

Convention center officials have shared photos of deficiencies in the building. Ceilings have large ‘diapers’ to collect leaks. Kitchens are insufficient to feed large crowds. Meeting rooms are not the size that some groups request.

“The meeting rooms are small. We did notice that. The entryways are smaller. And the food, it's hard to get to food. That's where we're going right now to grab a bite to eat,” convention visitor Lisa McGarrah said.

Dallas City Councilman Omar Narvaez is chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee that reviews options for the building.

“It’s falling apart. That’s the worst place for this thing and it’s time to replace the convention center. And I think the council has looked at every angle that we possibly can,” Narvaez said. “We're a top 10 city in the country and our convention center is now not up to par with smaller size cities.”

The recommended alternative calls for an entirely new building west of Lamar Street.

It would remove nearly all the existing convention center, making room for new parks and development.

“We're talking about a transformation of this downtown area,” Narvaez said.

The plan could cost around $2 billion. The state came up with a way to divert state tax money for big projects like this. Convention visitors would also pay.

“Your property taxes will not be paying for this,” Narvaez said.

At a city council briefing on the project last week, council members Paul Ridley and Cara Mendelsohn voiced objections.

“Other cities have seen that there isn't sufficient demand for meeting space,” Ridley said.

Mendelsohn said input on the project has come mainly from Dallas hotels and tourism people who are strongly in support of it.

“What we haven't done is really ask our residents if this is their priority and this is their interest,” Mendelsohn said.

Visitors Wednesday were not sold on the need for a new building.

“I don't think demolishing the whole thing is necessary,” Lyndsay Caulkin said.

Lisa McGarrah who is a Fort Worth native said the Dallas building is better than others she has visited in Austin and San Antonio.

“Maybe try to update this one instead,” she said.

If the city council supports the plan Wednesday, a November referendum would be necessary to raise an additional 2-cent hotel tax that would help pay for it.

The new building could be ready in 2026.

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