Fighting Over Scraps

RECEIVED Tue., Sept. 19, 2017

Dear Editor,
    Kevin Curtin’s “Playback: Sizing Up Music's Bite of the Hotel Tax,” [Music, Sept. 15] got it backwards on Mayor Adler’s support for the so-called “Downtown Puzzle” and what it means for live music in Austin.
    The mayor fought aggressively against providing $3.2 million to fund promotion of live music in Austin in this year’s budget. That’s right – against funding for live music, not for it. At the same time he fought – and managed to reduce – funding for heritage preservation, funds which could be used to preserve our heritage music venues now, before it’s too late.
    So what’s really going on?
    The mayor has chosen to hold hostage funding for live music, local business, the arts, parks, preservation, and, most notably, addressing homelessness, unless and until he secures funding for expanding the Convention Center. He argues that expanding the Convention Center is the only way to fund these critical needs.
    Council Agenda Item 60, by Mayor Pro Tem Tovo and Council Members Pool, Kitchen, and Troxclair made clear that is not true. We can re-prioritize our hotel taxes right now rather than being thrown a few scraps later, when over a billion dollars of future revenues are locked up in expanding and servicing an enlarged center.
    The fundamental fact is that Convention Center visitors constitute 2% or less of Austin visitors, yet the Convention Center is consuming 85% of our tourism revenues. Even if an enlarged Convention Center were wildly successful, it would only increase visitors by another percent or two.
    By contrast, the people, places, and activities that make Austin exciting to visitors and residents alike must fight over the remaining 15% of the hotel tax dollars. Many of these – live music, unique Austin business, our natural and cultural heritage – we are losing because of hyper-growth and decades of neglect from City Hall.
    At its core, the mayor’s “Downtown Puzzle” would lock in this funding mismatch for the next 20 to 30 years. This blow to live music, arts, parks, preservation, and local business is softened a bit by increasing the hotel tax and promises of a “growing pie,” so that all the scraps get bigger. The mayor’s one-time goody-pot of $50 million divided among various projects further obscures the truth about the real, long-term costs.
    The Chronicle owes its readers and the community the whole truth about how an expanded Convention Center would consume close to $100 million every year, much of which could and should be spent on what residents and visitors love about Austin.
Bill Bunch
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