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 www.unconventionalaustin.org. 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 (hotels.com 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 UnconventionalAustin.org) 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 UnconventionalAustin.org and other sources so that, if given the opportunity, you may cast an educated vote.

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