Travis County continues to push for Palm School-expo center swap as city of Austin considers other options

Travis County commissioners proposed swapping ownership of the Palm School for ownership of the Travis County Expo Center and access to hotel tax revenue funds.
Travis County commissioners proposed swapping ownership of the Palm School for ownership of the Travis County Expo Center and access to hotel tax revenue funds.

Travis County commissioners proposed swapping ownership of the Palm School for ownership of the Travis County Expo Center and access to hotel tax revenue funds.

With voter approval to expand the Travis County Expo Center secured, county officials have issued an offer to the city of Austin to exchange ownership of Palm School for the expo center with a deadline of Dec. 16.

According to a proposed timeline for the expo center redevelopment, the county hopes to execute the land transfer or acquisition agreement with the city of Austin in July.

“I acknowledge that the City has shown no interest to date in linking its interest in Palm with our interest in Expo,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to City Manager Spencer Cronk. “Although we have not yet received a hard offer, Travis County looks forward to and will seriously consider any counteroffers proffered by the City for the sale of Expo or the purchase of Palm as linked or as separate transactions.”

In a Nov. 19 memo to Austin City Council, Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales wrote city staff "continues to pursue mutually beneficial solutions for achieving shared goals with Travis County on the Expo Center" and to "prioritize the acquisition of Palm School, and we are committed to a successful outcome."

A brief history


More than 60% of Travis County voters approved a proposition Nov. 5 that allows the county to collect hotel occupancy tax revenue to fund the expansion project.

However, the county will not be able to collect any such revenue until at least 2021 because the city of Austin currently collects the maximum hotel tax allowed under state law.


A portion of the city-levied hotel tax—a 2% venue project tax that is being used to pay off debt from the 2002 expansion of the Austin Convention Center—expires in 2029, but city officials have previously said they expect the debt will be paid off by 2021.

County leaders sought a commitment from the city to pay off the debt by this date at an Aug. 8 City Council meeting, but city officials stopped short of agreeing to an enforceable commitment.

Meanwhile, in addition to its plans to pursue hotel tax funds, county officials also proposed a swap to Cronk and Austin City Council in early July.

Per Eckhardt’s proposal, the city would exchange ownership of the former HealthSouth physical rehabilitation facility and the expo center site as well as the 2% hotel tax revenue stream for ownership of the Palm School site.

The city of Austin owns the expo center site, which it leases to Travis County.

The county owns the Palm School site and recently approved a set of restrictive covenants for the property that requires, among other things, most of the space be dedicated to cultural heritage or community uses.

However, commissioners have stressed the county does not have the funds to convert the site into a museum or cultural center or to maintain it as such.

City leaders have repeatedly urged Travis County not to sell the Palm School or its surrounding site, but thus far have not jumped at the chance to take over ownership of the site, which was most recently appraised at $53 million.

Next steps


Eckhardt and Cronk met Nov. 13 to discuss the Palm School site.

Per Gonzales' memo, the city has initiated an updated property appraisal for Palm School, which will take into consideration the recently approved restrictive covenants. It is expected to be completed by the end of January.

Gonzales added a final proposal will be made to Travis County "at the appropriate time."

Eckhardt said she expects to focus on the expo center at future meetings.

“In discussions at the staff and elected official levels over the past several years, the County has been steadfast in its communications that we will need 1. resolution on the transfer of ownership or control of the Exposition Center property to Travis County; and 2. a date certain by which the voter-approved 2% [hotel tax] will be available to Travis County for the renovation of the Exposition Center,” Eckhardt wrote.

Neither of these demands is likely to be fulfilled any time soon.

In his response memo, Gonzales said city staff will depend on an updated financial analysis for the Convention Center expansion to inform decisions on the expo center expansion project and hotel tax revenue.

He added the previous estimate that the city could pay off its debt by 2021—thus freeing up a portion of hotel tax revenue for the county to access—is "not feasible" without the updated analysis.

"[T]he reallocation of [hotel tax revenue] for other allowable uses, the timing for site acquisition, and the expanded scope of the expansion itself to include the current Convention Center site have all affected the timing and ability to retire the current debt ahead of its scheduled maturity in 2029," Gonzales wrote.
SHARE THIS STORY


MOST RECENT

Navarro Early College High School, pictured here, is one of over 30 Austin ISD schools frozen to transfer students for the coming 2020-21 school year. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD announces 31 schools frozen to transfers for 2020-21 school year

Austin ISD released its list of schools that will not be accepting in-district transfer students for the 2020-21 school year.

Austin Regional Clinic has administered more than 84,000 flu vaccinations to date in 2019.
DATA: Austin Regional Clinic gave thousands of flu tests after Thanksgiving; second spike possible during holidays

Austin Regional Clinic gave more than 4,500 flu tests leading up to Thanksgiving.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (center), flanked by Assistant City Manager Christopher Shorter and City Attorney Ann Morgan, listen to public testimony on the land development code rewrite Dec. 7. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Property owners objecting to Austin’s land development code rewrite sue city for rejecting their protest rights

The lawsuit could hold up the city's approval of its land development code overhaul.

The city of Austin will begin charging a $0.15 per trip regulatory fee on shared mobility vehicles in early 2020. Community Impact Staff
City of Austin will implement a $0.15 regulatory fee on shared mobility rides

The city of Austin will begin charging a $0.15 per trip regulatory fee on shared mobility vehicles, which include electric bikes and scooters, Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar wrote in a Dec. 10 memo to City Council.

The proposed bridge design is in a wishbone shape and includes a plaza space at the center. (Rendering courtesy city of Austin)
City of Austin reveals wishbone design for new bridge over Longhorn Dam

The city of Austin debuted a design proposal for a new bridge over the Longhorn Dam connecting the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail at a Dec. 10 open house.

Travis County commissioners voted to allow staff to begin contract negotiations for a new women's jail facility at a Dec. 10 meeting. (Courtesy Travis County Sheriff's Office)
Travis County begins contract negotiations for women’s jail facility as overall jail population continues to decline

The county has planned to build a new, separate women’s facility for years, despite some pushback from local activists.

The Microtel Inn and Suites is located in Southeast Austin, only a 4.5-mile drive from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Zoning concern prevents Austin from moving forward with second conversion of hotel to homeless shelter

Officials have already indicated they are eyeing other hotels and motels for purchase and conversion into homeless shelters.

Block 21 will change ownership. The mixed-use development includes ACL Live at the Moody Theater and the W Austin hotel.
W Austin and ACL Live development will sell for $275 million

The transaction is expected to close in 2020.

When Austin voters approved a $250 million affordable housing bond in 2018, they signed off on using part of that funding to expand a home repair program for low-income residents. Many beneficiaries are seniors.
Affordable housing bond funding helps seniors 'age in place' through home repair program

When Austin voters approved a historic $250 million affordable housing bond in 2018, they signed off on a $28 million investment in home repairs for low-income residents.

Common winter allergies in Texas are caused by pollen from the Ashe juniper—also known as a mountain cedar. The tree is native to the area. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
As pollen counts rise in Central Texas, learn about cedar fever and allergy prevention

As temperatures cool heading into the winter season in Central Texas, pollen counts from Ashe juniper trees begin to climb, causing seasonal allergies referred to locally by residents as “cedar fever.”

Back to top