Commission supports Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s convention center expansion proposal one week before council vote

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Austin’s Downtown Commission threw unanimous support behind Mayor Steve Adler’s “Downtown Puzzle” pitch on Wednesday, one week before City Council is slated to vote on the funding plan.

Adler, who originally pitched the “Downtown Puzzle” in July, presented the plan to the 11-member Downtown Commission during its meeting on Wednesday. The plan kickstarts several codependent initiatives that at once would fund an Austin Convention Center expansion, bring in more hotel occupancy tax revenue to assist the city’s music scene, cultural and art projects and historic preservation, while also creating a revenue stream dedicated to addressing the city’s homelessness issue.

City Council will vote on a resolution on Sept. 28 to direct the city manager to put the council in a position to “assemble the Downtown Puzzle.” While the Downtown Commission unanimously supported the plan, Adler said there was pushback from some council members—namely District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.

When asked what role the Downtown Commission could play in the Downtown Puzzle’s path, Adler urged the commissioners to “touch base” with their council representatives and let them know where they stand on the issue.

The central piece to the puzzle is a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax increase—from 15 percent to 17 percent, which would bring in the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to expand the convention center. The city would also be able to take a portion of that money and dedicate it to cultural and art initiatives and a boost to the city’s music scene.

The puzzle also proposes the hotel industry create a Tourism Public Improvement District, which would add another 2 percent tax on their guests. Adler said hoteliers and City Council would have to vote on the tax, and that the hoteliers agreed to give 40 percent of the revenue to the city, which the city would dedicate to programs that address homelessness. Adler said it would be the first time the city has created a dedicated and substantial funding stream toward addressing homelessness.

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Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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