At the beginning of 2021, the Dallas City Council reviewed a proposal for a new convention center to be built. The Kay Bailey Hutchison (KBH) Convention Center has sat on South Griffin Street for over forty-five years.
The redevelopment plan created by WSP USA Incorporated, an engineering and design firm, came with a five-million-dollar price tag, as reported by the Dallas Morning News (DMN), and a recommendation for the structure to be rebuilt.
The current KBH Convention Center, according to the WSP USA firm, does not have enough rooms, needs modern updates, and does not have amenities surrounding it that would attract significant lucrative events. The proposed cost for a new convention center is $1.9 billion, but it would have to receive approval from the City Council.
Currently, at least one Council member, Cara Mendelsohn, has expressed concern over the $600 million owed on the KBH and the Omni Hotel. Mendelsohn posed a question on her Facebook page to residents on whether the KBH should be “scrapped” and a new one built given the pending debt.
In response to Mendelsohn’s post, David Morrison responded, “No,” and listed five reasons for his Facebook vote.
Morrison, the Facebook respondent, first noted, “Dallas was promised years ago the KBH hotel (the Omni) would boost and bring more business. It hasn’t.” Morrison also cited the lack of hotels, attractions, and conventions replacing new technology. His third reason was Dallas not being a popular city for tourists or conventions and, “most important, Dallas taxpayers DO NOT want another boondoggle project. Nor can we afford it.”
The Dallas Express reached out to Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn and asked her to elaborate on her concerns about a new convention center.
“One of my concerns is there has not been a financial analysis of increased revenue and increased debt,” she said. “A project of this size should not have been briefed to the City Council without this analysis. The time allowed for questions was inadequate; and, I still have many questions about the project from concept to detail.”
Regarding voters–and how they would be involved in the decision of the future of the KBH–Mendelsohn says she would like to see the “proposition to be broken up in multiple sections so voters can select what they want to see happen, from an update (or, modernization) to additional facilities like a ballroom and break out rooms, to tearing it down and rebuilding it.”
Dallas’ Director for Convention & Event Services, Rosa Fleming, told DMN the project is “transformational” but warned that if reconstruction on the KBH is not done, there is a chance new development could drown it out. “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,” Fleming told DMN.
Councilman Adam Bazaldua supports the project, suggesting that a 2% rise in hotel occupancy taxes could also be used to improve Fair Park, the district he represents. The state allows for 20% of fees to be used for a stadium, music hall, and other city-owned venues. The same 2% rise in hotel occupancy taxes is proposed to collect $2.2 billion over thirty years, raising the hotel tax to 15% from the current 13%. Voters would need to approve raising the hotel occupancy tax for the redevelopment to happen.
On October 13, the City Council approved an ordinance asking the state to designate a three-mile area around the KBH as a “project financing zone” that would use hotel occupancy, sales, and mixed-drink taxes within the zone to be used by Dallas for convention and event services.
Before a decision is made about the fate of the KBH, the City Council would need to approve a design; however, Councilmembers and the WSP USA firm are awaiting approval from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee for the design proposal to be brought before the City Council: that decision has been delayed until later in January.
In her conversation with DMN Mendelsohn says, “This is a land grab; and, it is at the expense of our taxpayers.”