Mayor Pro Tem Chad West stated that it was an “exciting day” and that Dallas has been in the “convention center business” for decades.
“Just like in any business you’re in, whether you’re in a small business like me or a large corporation like some of the folks probably watching us today, you’ve got to continue to invest in your business or you’re gonna fail,” West said.
Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn was the only vote against the motion, which passed by a vote of 14 to 1. After the vote, she commented that it was “distasteful” that the council limited debate on the item of business, given the financial significance of the proposal.
Among other points, Mendelsohn contended that COVID-19 has changed the nature of conventions and the future profitability of a new convention complex is nebulous.
She also questioned why the city council has for decades not done a better job funding maintenance for the current facility and expressed misgivings about the expense of the proposal.
“The staff and consultant have pointed repeatedly to Nashville. Nashville set a maximum budget of $585 million,” Mendelsohn said. “But Dallas, we can’t go for $585 million because we are the big ‘D.’ The big ‘D’ in debt.”
The councilwoman noted that the city still owes $200 million on the current facility.
In a resolution, the council referenced the findings of a 2017 study that indicated numerous problems, including the age of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, maintenance costs that total $8 million each year, and “poor pedestrian connectivity.”
The document stated the center also “(lacks) ballrooms, meeting spaces, restaurants, hotel space, and amenities to generate a competitive guest experience.” The resolution cited a missing authentic urban experience and “limited parcels for future development due to its current physical orientation.”
The funding source for the new convention center reportedly could be a 2 percent increase in the city’s hotel tax, which would require the approval of Dallas voters. Proponents contend the cost of maintaining the current convention center justifies the expense of a new complex.
While the council touted the business side of the equation, the current facility has also served as a public utility as the government and other entities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness, and the border crisis.
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, Dallas County prepared the convention center for use as an overflow hospital for patients sick with COVID-19. However, hospitalizations in North Texas remained manageable and it never became necessary to use the facility as a hospital.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency leased the facility last spring to house unaccompanied minors as illegal immigration began to spike.
Correction: The amount owed on the current facility is $200 million. A previous version of this article stated an incorrect amount.
A copy of the resolution can be found below.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."