To Expand or Not to Expand
That is the question
We're not normally in the business of congratulating adults for accomplishing basic tasks, but it does seem worth noting that on Monday the city's Tourism Commission finally completed the gut-busting work of electing a chair and vice chair. Commissioners had been deadlocked over who would helm their body, because skeptics of an Austin Convention Center expansion didn't want industry people at the top, while those who'd like to see said expansion didn't want anti-ACC people there.
The two sides were at such loggerheads that a fairly obvious compromise – putting an industry person in one seat, and a skeptic in the other – had failed until this week. But, after three meetings, the commission finally installed South by Southwest Planning Manager Catlin Whitington as chair, and Preservation Austin's Kate Singleton as vice chair.
So everybody's happy, right? Not an ice cube's chance in hell. Commissioners John Riedie (Austin Creative Alliance) and Scott Joslove (Texas Hotel and Lodging Association) clashed yet again over Riedie's pet cause of directing more hotel occupancy tax money toward the promotion and marketing of music and arts, which Joslove said would violate state law. When Riedie disagreed – pointing to "other cities in Texas" – Joslove suggested that the commission seek a more definitive answer from city legal. We hereby advocate for such a briefing, if only to avoid sitting through any more of these conversations.
The commission also took in a budget presentation from Visit Austin staff, which predictably led to commissioners Bill Bunch (Save Our Springs Alliance) and Michael Searle (Citizens for an Accountable Austin impresario and CM Ellen Troxclair's former chief of staff) asking tough follow-the-money questions. That in turn led to a bit of pushback from Commissioner Ed Bailey (of Austin City Limits), who said some members would prefer to get more of a big-picture briefing before diving into budget minutiae. Commissioner Vanessa Fuentes (American Heart Association) agreed, acknowledging it would be helpful for an outsider to learn how the industry works before being asked to make judgments on the nitty-gritty.
Ultimately, the two sides aren't really fighting over the current numbers. The more central argument is whether the city should invest in an expansion. One side insists the current center isn't meeting its occupancy goals, making an expansion a waste of money. Their counterparts say the current center is regularly booked, and any vacancies are actually the result of the Convention Center being too small, making an expansion more necessary.
Seems like it would be a lot easier to parse the merits of both perspectives if everyone would just tone it down. But hey, we're just throwing peanuts.
Council Honors Menchaca
As a native South Austinite, it's hard to put into words how much of a milestone it was last week when Council voted to rename Manchaca Road to Menchaca Road to correct a misspelled tribute to legendary Texas Army Captain José Antonio Menchaca. Some nearby residents protested that the name shouldn't change because it was actually a Choctaw reference to the area, but that argument died on the vine, when a UT historian told Council that no Choctaw had ever lived in the area, and that Menchaca was an active ranger who would've been known to the people there.
Hunk of Cultural Arts Funding
Council also approved pulling $700,000 from reserves to the Cultural Arts Fund to bridge some of the unexpected funding cuts experienced by organizations this year. It's not the last we'll see of the issue at City Hall: Expect the Council's Audit & Finance Committee to take up the issue of making the program more sustainable going forward. And see more from Arts Editor Robert Faires ("City Arts Funding: The Resolution," Oct. 12).
Council will return for its next regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18, to take up Visit Austin's $15 million budget, the city's plan for the 86th legislative session, and a resolution directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to start work on a program to incentivize grocery store development in underserved areas.