Convention Center Opinions and Facts

I wrote a blog last month about the petition to call for a public vote on expansion of the Convention Center and how the Hotel Occupancy Funds (HOT) revenue might be allocated. AIBA has endorsed the petition. For more information on this, see The petition is not calling for an expansion or not, it is calling for a vote on the issue.

In that blog (Expand the Convention Center? The Choice Should Be Yours), I also state my opinion. My opinion was formed from facts I learned at the Visitor Impact Task Force. I shared this information because part of my job as Executive Director of AIBA is to inform our members of issues that might affect them. I clearly stated that is was my opinion.

Council member Flannigan wrote a blog opposing my opinion which he is certainly entitled to do. However his blog reduced the debate to references to Game of Thrones and referring to me as a dragon and a queen who might be controlled by dark money. Frankly, I find it appalling that an Austin City Council Member resorts to calling me names on Facebook because my opinion differs from his. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones so some of the inference is lost on me. But it’s a sad state of affairs when social media name calling takes the place of civil dialogue.

But he did something else. He called out the validity of my factual statements which brings my integrity into question. I must apologize to my readers. I should have sourced my statements in the first blog and I did not do so. I am sourcing them here.

When I learned that the Convention Center produces only 4% of Austin’s tourists but garners more than 70% of all public tourism funding, I was left scratching my head.
Actually I’m wrong here. It’s worse than I stated. In Visit Austin’s Visit Austin Marketing Plan for 2017/2018, page 7 shows that 27.4 million people visited Austin in 2017. In the recent UT Study commissioned by the City of Austin, Frameworks for Placemaking, Alternative Futures for the Austin Convention District, page 260 states that the total estimated attendance at the Convention Center was 546,385. Simple math tells us that’s 1.99%. Let’s just call it 2%. The 4% came from hotel rooms, not visitors. If you include hotel rooms booked by conventions as well as estimated bookings by other sources ( and other travel services), the Convention Center is responsible for about 4% of booked hotel rooms annually. This is included in Visit Austin Presentation to Tourist Commission, March 18, 2019.

When I learned that SXSW alone represents 30% of the 4%, I started to ask questions.
Visit Austin reported 150,000 attendance for SXSW. SXSW reported registered attendees (those utilizing the Convention Center) were 79,906 including speakers and media. I can’t account for the difference. Both are for 2017, the last year all data is available for. 150,000 is 29% and 79,906 is 14.6% of 546,385.

When I learned that Visit Austin wants to expand the Convention Center to the (now estimated) $1.2 Billion, I started calculating return on investment.
Taking the newest information above, $1.2 Billion (and you know it always costs more than the original estimate) buys us a Visit Austin projected baseline increase of 38% or 200,000 additional attendees per year. This is also from City of Austin, Frameworks for Placemaking, Alternative Futures for the Austin Convention District, Executive Summary, page VI. My question stands. It seems like we could bring in so many more visitors with investing in other local venues.

I encourage you to sign the petition (see so that we may all have a vote. The Austin community voted on the Convention Center when the city proposed putting it at Auditorium Shores and we voted again on the last expansion. Why are our leaders so against a vote this time?

I also encourage you to educate yourself through and other sources so that, if given the opportunity, you may cast an educated vote.

Expand the Convention Center? The Choice Should Be Yours

More than a year ago AIBA became involved with the Tourism Task Force in working to reallocate some of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) to promoting local business to tourists. After all, we are a huge attraction to tourists. Tourists don’t come here to experience what they have at home. They come here to experience the flavor of our local culture. And local business is one of the greatest expressions of that local flavor. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful.

I didn’t start out being against expansion of the Convention Center. I really didn’t know enough to be for or against it. But what I learned sitting in hours and hours of meetings and presentations enlightened me and left me with an opinion—a very strong opinion.

When I learned that the Convention Center produces only 4% of Austin’s tourists but garners more than 70% of all public tourism finding, I was left scratching my head. When I learned that SXSW alone represents 30% of the 4%, I started to ask questions. When I learned that Visit Austin wants to expand the Convention Center to the (now estimated) $1.2 Billion, I started calculating return on investment. It didn’t take long for me to realize this makes no sense. The convention industry is flat. Even if the Convention Center saw a 50% increase in business (extremely unlikely, when did you last see a 50% increase in business?), that’s only a 2% increase in visitors. Cultural tourism (that’s us local businesses) is what’s growing.

All this led me to ask “If Austin has $1.2 Billion to invest in attracting tourists, how could that money be better spent?” If 96% of our visitors come for reasons other than an event at the Convention Center, what could we do to attract more? What could we do that could also benefit Austinites too? More arts venues? Taking care of our parks? Supporting the music community that we all love 365? Bring more tourists into local businesses so that money could circulate all over Austin? Enhance something in every part of town instead of just downtown? The possibilities are almost endless. And this is where I landed. Squarely against expansion of the Convention Center. It doesn’t make sense on any level.

But this isn’t my decision. Right now, it’s not yours either. The HOT revenue is a community asset that should be treated as such. AIBA has members who would like to see the Convention Center expanded. They believe this could be good for their business. I can respect that. But as a community asset, I believe it should be up to us, all of us, how it is allocated. While I may be against expansion, out of respect for all our members AIBA is not taking a position on expansion. My role here is educational advocacy—informing you of the facts so you can make your own decisions.

However we are partnering with SOS Alliance and others to give you the vote. We’re doing this through a petition to have a ballot measure added to call for public votes when spending billions of your dollars. In the coming weeks you’ll be hearing more from us about the petition. To be clear, the petition isn’t to stop expansion of the Convention Center but to let the public decide. I hope you can all get behind this choice.

For now, read more information on this at It’s still under construction but all the basics are there. If you have any questions or just want to talk about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

AIBA is endorsing the petition to allow the public to vote on Convention Center expansion, not advocating on the expansion itself. The opinion expressed in this blog is mine alone and not necessarily that of AIBA, our partners or sponsors.

In Op-Ed for Fortune ILSR Details the High Cost of Cashless Retail Trend

Originally published in Fortune
by Charlie Thaxton

Cashless retail is on the rise and has begun to concern some lawmakers. New Jersey recently banned the practice. Philadelphia has done the same. So far, the debates leading up to these laws have mostly centered on how cash-free establishments exclude unbanked citizens.

In a commentary piece for Fortune, ILSR researcher Charlie Thaxton details another major cost. Cashless retail — and credit cards in general — allow a handful of credit card monopolies and big banks to siphon billions of dollars from consumers and businesses through the swipe fees they charge merchants. These fees amounted to $79 billion last year.

Businesses, especially small ones, have little leverage to negotiate these fees, which average about 2 percent of a transaction. Refusing to accept Visa and Mastercard isn’t a viable option, either. READ MORE.

AIBA works for local business. Join us and reap the benefits.

Locally owned? We’re here for you. AIBA is the only nonprofit in town that represents local business through advocacy, marketing, connecting the community and more. We’re technically a chamber of commerce but we’re also the only chamber that markets our members directly to consumers through, social media and newsletters. Your members tell the true story…

“AIBA is a fantastic community of like-minded local business owners, who receive support from the leadership of the AIBA for city government advocacy as well as promotion of their individual businesses and small- and locally-owned businesses in general in Austin.”

—Jody Reyes, WhichCraft Taproom

“I treasure my AIBA membership for the contacts I’ve made and the networking opportunities organized each month. This unique group is informed, forward thinking, and committed to a culture that addresses business issues such as growth and recognition as well as focusing on whole person health as a balancing element.”

—Aida Pollard, CG&S Design Build

“AIBA is about community. As an organization AIBA does a phenomenal job of supporting their members and facilitating connections. AIBA checks all the boxes you look for in a business organization (value in marketing, local advocacy, networking, etc.), but more importantly, AIBA is a community of businesses that care about their team mates and each other. AIBA members have fun and enjoy time around each other. AIBA is a microcosm of what we all know and love about Austin – weird, fun, innovative, savvy and uniquely Austin.”

—Nolan Gore, Top Choice Lawn Care

“Precision Camera has been a member of AIBA for over 10 years. We see the value of promoting local businesses, and AIBA is in the forefront of doing just that. Members have a wealth of experience to lean on when advice is needed by attending meetings and events and mixing things up with other local businesses. They say you get what you put in, and this is true of AIBA.”

—Gregg Burger, Precision Camera

Join before May 25 to be included in the next IndieAustin, our member magazine distributed throughout Austin. Get Certified AustinTRUE!

AIBA Advocacy Reaches New Heights

We recently created a campaign for our May membership drive that we posted on Facebook. The campaign included an animated graphic of a gathering group of armadillos. Apparently Facebook thought our post was politically subversive and blocked us from boosting it. We even asked for a second review and were denied again. Armadillos a national threat? Are these gathering dillos preparing to interfere with national elections? Is the dillo an immigration issue?

We decided to investigate. Maybe it’s not our charging heard of fierce beastly dillos (oh, I mean our gathering gathering group of friendly Indy’s). Maybe it’s what we said. Our original copy read “Come join us in the only nonprofit organization that supports, promotes and advocates for locally owned businesses.” Seems benign. But we removed the word “advocates” and Facebook accepted it. 

I know our advocacy has made a difference in Austin but had no idea how powerful our voice really is. When your advocacy for local business is considered a national threat…WOW!

If you’re not yet a member, join us!

6th Annual Armadillo Awards a Huge Success

Thank you Austin! The 6th Annual Armadillo Awards were awesome. More than 200 local business owners gathered at the Historic Scottish Rite Theater for a grand party and awards show.

Congratulations to all the finalists – y’all really picked an amazing line up this year! We want to specifically congratulate our 2019 Armadillo Award recipients: Cosmic Coffee & Beer GardenBerdoll PecansP. Terry’s Burger StandMatt’s El RanchoLions Krav Magaand KOOP Radio. And a special congratulations to our 2019 Armadillo Hall of Fame inductee, the Assistance League of Austin.

See all of our amazing finalists and who won which award on our website. We all agree that our amazing local businesses are at the heart of Austin’s funky, free-spirited vibe and we love the opportunity to celebrate them at the Awards each year. Thank you to all who participated!