Austin City Council set to discuss 'Convention Center', 'Soccer' petitions

Unconventional Austin's petition demanding a vote on any sort of expansion of Austin's Convention Center was validated last week by the City of Austin.  

"The proposal that's on the table right now is the biggest boondoggle in Austin history,” Bill Bunch with Unconventional Austin said. “It really adds up to more than $2 billion.”

Now it's up to the City Council to choose whether to put the political action committee's petitioned ordinance on the November ballot.

"Unless the council chooses to adopt it on its own and of course we don't think that's going to happen," Bunch said.

Bunch, who you might recognize from the group "Save Our Springs", says the group's ordinance would do a couple of things.

"It would require voter approval for any major expansion of the Convention Center just as we voted on it twice before," Bunch said.   

Bunch says the money the City wants to spend on the Convention Center is better spent on what people love about Austin like live music, arts and film.

"It (the ordinance) would prioritize our Hotel Occupancy Tax tourism dollars to go towards cultural heritage and environmental tourism and it would limit how much we spend on a Convention Center to about a third," Bunch said. 

Scott Joslove, president and CEO of the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, says what the group wants to do with the hotel tax isn't legal.  

"The reality is state law doesn't allow us to put any more, not a single dollar more, into the arts or into historical so their premise is completely false and misleading to everyone that's signed that petition," Joslove said.  

Bunch says that’s not true.

"This was fully vetted by a team of lawyers, it's absolutely legal to allocate these dollars in a way that serves our tourism," Bunch said.

Joslove is a big supporter of Convention Center expansion and so is Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

"It doesn't spend any public tax dollars, it doesn't spend any property tax or sales tax dollars, it is funded entirely through the tourism industry through the hotel tax, it is a slam dunk," Flannigan said.  

Flannigan describes Unconventional Austin as a small group of well-funded individuals getting petition signatures based on misinformation.

"I'm not sure what the value is to Save Our Springs and Bill Bunch to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting this slam-dunk success for the city and the taxpayers when they should be spending that money fighting pipelines in Hays County and actual environmental concerns," Flannigan said.  

Flannigan says on August 8, Council will discuss the options for putting the Unconventional Austin initiative on the ballot as well as the one challenging Austin's Major League Soccer stadium deal.

"I believe the citizens of Austin are smart enough to know when there's 'dark money' forces at play," Flannigan said. "This is no way to govern a city and we must defeat both of these petitions." 

Part of the criticism of Convention Center expansion is that is already losing business. The Texas Hotel and Lodging Association says the Convention Center is turning away more than half the business that comes to it because they don't have space or available dates.