Feb 2, 2022 - News

Big questions surround Dallas' convention center plans

The brutalistic convention center
Look at that brutalistic beauty. Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Heywood T. Sanders, a professor at UTSA who studies the economics and politics of convention centers, calls the plans to build a new convention center in Dallas "an obfuscation job."

Why it matters: The project has a reported cost of between $2 billion and $4.4 billion and will reshape the southwest side of Downtown — though the exact cost and the specifics on how much space would be created remain unclear.

  • "The reality is, you could use this money for lots of other things, if you got it through the legislature," Sanders tells Axios.

Driving the news: City Council is expected to receive a formal briefing Wednesday about the options for revamping the current convention center or tearing most of it down and building a new one.

  • The council could vote to move forward with one of the plans as early as next week.

Details: Sanders has tracked the cost and use of convention centers across the country for several years. He has paid particular attention to what's happening in Dallas.

By the numbers: Sanders points out that attendance at in-person conventions nationwide is way down from pre-pandemic levels and may never return.

  • A radiologist convention in Chicago that used to draw more than 40,000 in-person attendees had barely half that in 2021.
  • The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas had more than 170,000 attendees in early 2020 and less than 25% of that number this year.
  • Sanders also says conventions never completely recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and that he expects the same difficulties going forward post-COVID.

What they're saying: Sanders tells Axios that even after multiple freedom of information requests, he couldn't track down the sources used by city staffers to forecast the number of out-of-towners a new convention center will attract.

  • "They're making claims about the center's future performance that don't appear to be documented, and the City Council doesn't appear to be asking about it."
  • "I have no particular interest in the Dallas case," Sanders tells Axios, "except for some continuing level of bemusement and some admiration for the city staff that spin and fudge to produce presentation slides that are effectively content-free."

The bottom line: The city's plans for this new convention center are winding implacably forward despite the scant evidence of any financial benefits to the community.

Our thought bubble: As D Magazine owner Christine Allison tweeted recently, the way the city has focused on niceties for visitors instead of serving residents shows a true lack of imagination.

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