Dec 15, 2021 - News

The economics of a new Dallas convention center are foggy

A very ugly convention center
This entrance is definitely not much of a signature. Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

As Dallas inches toward renovating or rebuilding the convention center, some important questions haven’t been answered.

Why it matters: Whether it’s a renovation or total rebuild of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, the project would cost billions and completely remake an important corner of downtown Dallas.

Driving the news: An engineering and design firm hired by the city recommended totally rebuilding the convention center, with a “signature entrance” facing Lamar Street, the most expensive option available.

  • The consultants told the city that a new convention center would spark more development downtown and bring in billions in spending and new property taxes.

Yes, but: Experts have picked apart the math on similar claims about convention centers, and the resulting economic impacts are foggy at best.

Flashback: The City Council approved a plan to pay for the new or rebuilt convention center using hotel taxes that would have otherwise gone to the state.

  • Other options the city is considering include a $500 million renovation and a $1 billion expansion of the current building.
  • The convention center is mostly paid for with bonds pledged against revenue, but if the center ever fails to repay that money, the burden falls to taxpayers.

Context: Dallas still owes more than $200 million on the current convention center and $400 million on the city-owned Omni Hotel in the same part of downtown.

What they’re saying: “This includes the redevelopment of a portion of downtown that’s historically turned its back on south Dallas and effectively served as a barrier to development in the southern sector,” Rosa Fleming, Dallas’ director for convention and event services, told the DMN last week.

The other side: “This is a land grab, and it is at the expense of our taxpayers,” Council member Cara Mendelsohn told the paper.

The intrigue: The convention center project hasn’t received a lot of local attention — or a ton of opposition — despite the eye-popping cost.

Our thought bubble: The last two years have taught us that the gathering-huge-groups-in-person business is not tremendously reliable.

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