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Austin City Council to move forward on $1.2B Convention Center expansion—despite COVID
(Shutterstock)

Austin City Council will consider a number of agenda items related to the Convention Center expansion on Thursday.

Austin City Council is poised to take the next steps toward a long-discussed, $1.2 billion expansion of the Neal K. Kocurek Austin Convention Center this week, despite the economic uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.


At a meeting on Thursday, members will consider whether to approve a contract with "all necessary parties for acquisition" of two adjacent downtown blocks as well as whether to commit additional funding to the project in the form of consultants and legal counsel.

Austin City Council will take the first step toward purchasing two adjacent downtown blocks on Thursday as part of a planned expansion of the convention center. (City of Austin Real Estate Services)

The convention center opened in 1992 and underwent an expansion between 1999 and 2002. Council members voted unanimously in May 2019 to approve a second, $1.2 billion expansion that will extend the convention center to the west. The proposal also ties in the preservation of the historic Palm School, development of Palm Park and improvements to Rainey Street.

Given the city's rapid growth, the current venue "has not been able to accommodate all event demand," according to a market study conducted by the consulting firm HVS published last month. An expanded convention center, however, is projected to drive economic activity by drawing more people to Austin—and the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that call it home.

The consultants estimate that the proposed expansion will increase the economic impact of the convention center by more than $300 million a year, leading to higher tax revenues for the city as well as the creation of more than 1,700 new jobs.

HVS Managing Director Thomas Hazinski told council members on Tuesday that he expects the convention center demand across the U.S. to return to normal in the next few years, in time for the 2024 opening of the first phase of the expansion in 2024.

"I think it is very fair to assume that this (pandemic), while it is much more prolonged than we ever expected it to be, is a temporary phenomenon and some resolution is going to happen before 2024," he said.

That said, Hazinski did raise concerns about the longer-term impacts of the economic recession occasioned by the pandemic.

"My bigger concern, and the concern that we built into this analysis, is what the pandemic's long-term impacts are on the economy," he said. "What we have seen in past recessions is it takes a long time to recover from a recession."

If council votes to approve these agenda items on Thursday, the next steps will include the design phase of the expansion project and the purchase of the two downtown blocks, which is anticipated to occur next summer.

"I think we obviously have a lot of open questions," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said on Tuesday. "(I) look forward to the action this week and answering some additional questions as we go forward."

The expansion project will be funded by hotel occupancy tax revenue. City Council voted to increase the hotel occupancy tax, or HOT tax, rate from 15% to the maximum 17% allowed under state law last summer. The city of Austin will use the revenue from the 2% increase for the expansion.

A group called Unconventional Austin gathered signatures for a citizen-initiated petition that would have required voter approval of any convention center expansion, but 54% of Austin voters rejected the measure last November.

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Comedy, live music, McConaughey Q&A: Events in Austin this weekend

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💈 Finley’s Pop-up Barbershop

Experience luxury grooming the old-fashioned way at a revival of the Driskill Hotel’s early 1900s barbershop put on by Austin-based Finley’s. The pop-up will offer men’s haircuts, beard trims, hot towels, neck massages and straight razor shaves. Click here to book an appointment.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday | The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St.

😂 Moontower Comedy Presents Hannah Gadsby

Catch veteran Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby touring with her newest show, “Body of Work,” written while she pondered the effects of the pandemic. Tickets are still available in the orchestra section, starting at $60.

Doors at 6 p.m. Friday | The Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.

🎤 Rex Orange County Who Cares? Tour

Alexander James O'Connor, AKA Rex Orange County, is returning to Austin to perform his newest album, “Who Cares?” Tickets are still available starting at $49 each.

Doors at 7:30 p.m. Friday | Germania Insurance Amphitheater, 9201 Circuit of The Americas Blvd.

⚾️ Round Rock Express vs. El Paso Chihuahuas

Catch our local Minor League team play against the El Paso Chihuahuas at home this week. Tickets start at $22.

Starting 7:05 p.m. Friday | Dell Diamond, 3400 E Palm Valley Blvd.

🎶 Bleachers—The 2022 Tour

Enjoy a night of indie-pop from Grammy-winning producer Jack Antonoff, whose stage name is Bleachers, from the intimacy of Stubb’s. Tickets are still available starting at $33.

Starting 7:05 p.m. Saturday | Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater, 801 Red River St.

🎸 The Peterson Brothers with Latasha Lee

Catch the groovy, Bastrop-born brothers are taking their rightful place on stage with soulstress Latasha Lee at Antone’s. Arrive early, seating fills up quickly! The show is 21+ and tickets start at $15.

Doors at 7 p.m. Saturday | Antone's Nightclub, 305 E 5th St.

🤠 Emmanuel Acho and Matthew McConaughey Q&A

Famous former Longhorns Emmanuel Acho and Matthew McConaughey are joining forces for a Q&A about catching greenlights and living a limitless life. Each ticket will get the holder a copy of Acho’s new book, “Illogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits.” Tickets are $39 per person.

1:15 p.m. Sunday | LBJ Auditorium, 2313 Red River St.

⚽️ Austin FC vs. Orlando City

Austin FC is facing off against Orlando City at the biggest party in Austin, Q2 Stadium. Tickets are still available starting at $65 but ticketless Verde fans can still support at one of the many Pub Clubs.

7 p.m. Sunday | Q2 Stadium, 10414 Mc Kalla Pl.