Austin's 'Prop B' aims to give voters a say on convention center expansion

In July, the political action committee Unconventional Austin turned in the required signatures that resulted in the City of Austin's "Proposition B" on the November ballot.

The group says if voting "yes" means you'd like the chance to have a say in whether the City expands Austin's downtown convention center, which is estimated to cost more than a billion dollars.  

"I thought that was a lot of money. So I said 'why don't they let the people of Austin vote 'yes' or 'no?' That's what this is all about," said former state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos.

The group held a press conference at City Hall Wednesday morning.
Jim Wick is the lead organizer for PHAM PAC, a group in support of convention center expansion. PHAM stands for Palm School, homeless, arts and music -- their message is expansion will help fund those things.

"The convention center expansion is a really great thing because it will throw off about $300 million of community benefits over 10 years, that's including a dedicated funding stream for homeless services," Wick said.

The other part of Prop B is re-allocating a portion of the hotel occupancy tax revenue.

"Let's use some of that tourism money to actually support our musicians, support our artists, support the cultural diversity that people come to Austin for," said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea.

"They want the money to go towards historic preservation and cultural arts. Actually we're already allocating the maximum amount of funding under state law to those two groups of entities," Wick said.

One of the mailers sent out by the opposing group claims Unconventional Austin has a Trump connection.

"It was really important as a Democrat in Austin to let the community know that Unconventional Austin is spending thousands of dollars on a social media firm that also works for President Trump," Wick said.

Long-time Democrat Barrientos calls the mailer a "piece of garbage."  

"This intends to mislead, to distract with this chicken...move," Barrientos said.

Shea is also supporting Prop B.

"When I talk to people, almost no one is aware that the plan involves tearing down the entire convention center. I think that should be part of a debate in the community and there should be a vote on it," Shea said.

Wick says what the expansion will look like hasn't been decided on yet.

"There is a concept out there that would involve the City replacing the existing convention center but that decision hasn't been made and that's a big decision for the City," Wick said.

Barrientos says if Prop B does pass and voters approve the expansion, to build it.

"That's democracy! Let the people vote. The people are petitioning their government as our constitution allows us to do so that they can have a voice in this humongous spending of money! So if they say 'yes,' build it, fine," Barrientos said.