Rodeo Austin, Travis County leaders urging voters to approve Expo Center expansion

Rodeo Austin along with Travis County leaders are hoping voters will agree it's time to make the County's Exposition Center bigger and better.

"Our two weeks of rodeo in the year had an economic impact of $77 million in the city of Austin. And I'd like you to imagine more than that," said Rob Golding, CEO of Rodeo Austin.

The political action committee "Energize The Expo" is urging voters to say "yes" to Travis County's Prop A.

"A request to the voters to authorize Travis County to use just 2 percent of the hotel occupancy tax if and when the City of Austin's no longer using it," said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.  

Judge Eckhardt says the County would get "first dibs" on that revenue stream to modernize the Expo Center.

"I think that you can probably double the size of the footprint and you'd be able to bring in concerts, you'd be able to bring in bigger livestock shows," said County Commissioner Jeff Travillion.

Travillion says that's a great spot for a Capital Metro "Park and Ride."  

"It's almost the epicenter of the region. When you look at Pflugerville, it's a 20-minute ride down the road, Manor it's a 10-minute ride down the road," he said.

And that's not all. Travillion and Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder say this would be a long-overdue investment in the eastern crescent.

"You look at a number of people who have been displaced from the Austin area and what you'll find is they've moved out to this area," Travillion said.  

"It's not about desolation, deprivation, and destitution. It's also about opportunities for people to have good schools, well-paying jobs," Linder said.  

The City of Austin is also wanting to expand the Convention Center in downtown Austin. The City Council recently voted to raise the hotel occupancy tax from seven to nine percent -- that's money tourists pay for staying in Austin hotels.

Judge Eckhardt spoke before Council this summer and told them it's time they start sharing the pie, the pie being available hotel tax.

Also, the 2 percent Travis County is counting on to expand the Expo Center is tied up in debt from the last time the City expanded the Convention Center about 20 years ago. So if voters approve, "energizing" the Expo Center may take a while.

"I'm going with the serenity prayer here. I can do what I can do and stuff that's outside of my control is outside of my control," Eckhardt said.

On the City of Austin ballot, Proposition B is a citizen-initiated item that would require public approval before a major Convention Center expansion.  

"You can love the City of Austin's Proposition B or hate Proposition B and still love Travis County's Proposition A. No effect. You give us the authority for that 2 percent, we use it if and when the City of Austin is no longer using it for the Convention Center," Eckhardt said.

The Austin City Council is hoping to pay that debt off sooner rather than later and they've expressed interest in working with the County on getting the Expo Center project off the ground.