Austin Convention Center reveals redevelopment plan

Plan would take as long as 4 years, cost $1.4B

Austin Convention Center's Trisha Tatro (Austin Convention Center)
Austin Convention Center's Trisha Tatro (Austin Convention Center)

The Austin Convention Center’s executive team revealed plans to revamp the facility, promising a boost in revenue once the redevelopment is complete.

The plan is expected to generate more than $250 million in additional annual revenue for the Austin Convention Center, located at 500 E Cesar Chavez St. The center revealed a proof of concept for the redevelopment of the downtown economic engine that hosts more than 300,000 visitors annually, according to the Austin Business Journal.

The plan aims to keep the city competitive with convention destinations across the country, according to Austin Convention Center Department Director Trisha Tatro.

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Tatro and Chief Administrative Officer Katy Zamesnik told members of the Austin Tourism Commission the redevelopment is expected to take four years and cost between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion, according to the publication, and that it would be funded by the center’s own revenue as well as the city’s hotel occupancy tax, which was increased in 2019.

The department estimates that the expansion will have a total annual economic impact of $753.8 million, up from its current estimate of $468.8 million, and create 1,622 jobs, according to its report.

The project would be a complete reconstruction of the convention center, resulting in a smaller footprint but growing to 709,000 rentable square feet by building out additional meeting space underground. The center currently offers just over half of that with a total of 376,000 rentable square feet.

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This project would be the biggest transformation in the convention center’s 30-year history. It opened in 1992 and was first expanded in 2002, roughly doubling in size. Under the plan presented by Tatro and Zamesnik, the redevelopment will allow for public-private development opportunities.

“We are trying to achieve cost savings, which is why we are trying to actualize both projects on a similar timeline,” Zamesnik told the commission. “The project remains financially feasible.”

Some city leaders have expressed opposition to the current plan, according to the publication. Back in April, Austin’s Downtown Commission approved a recommendation to the City Council to carry out a request for proposals for residential or office spaces for the upper floors of the site. Just last year, members of the commission questioned the decision not to pursue the redevelopment as a public-private partnership and place the cost on the private sector.

The pandemic decimated the national convention business, but activity at the Austin facility is ramping back up as trade shows and corporate celebrations hit the road. Austin Convention Center is fielding business inquiries that match pre-pandemic levels, and is operating at about 70 percent capacity, officials said.

Plans for the redeveloped convention center would also include reopening Austin’s downtown streets to “multi-modal traffic,” according to the department’s presentation to the Austin Tourism Commission.

“Our goal is to bring the local community back,” Tatro said.

[Austin Business Journal] — James Bell