Dallas seeks to increase hotel tax, raise $1.5 billion for convention center, Fair Park
DALLAS - The Dallas City Council wants to increase the tax on hotel rooms in order to raise $1.5 billion.
The 2% increase in the occupancy tax rate would go to pay for rebuilding the Dallas Convention Center and make improvements to Fair Park.
Dallas City Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn was the lone voice of skepticism about the plan to use tourism dollars to generate big bucks for the convention center and Fair Park.
Among her concerns, was the city doesn't know the full cost of rebuilding the city's convention center.
"We need to be competitive. If Dallas is anything, we are competitive," Kay Bailey Hutchison said.
The namesake of the convention center was among the voices urging Dallas City Council members to approve the plan that would ultimately ask voters to raise hotel taxes by 2%.
"It will not affect our general fund or taxpayers. I stay in a lot of hotels, pay for those services. Visitors here will pay for services, and rightly so," Hutchinson added.
The hotel tax increase would bring the total tax on a Dallas hotel room to 15%.
Despite that, the Hotel Association of North Texas supports the move.
"For years, meeting planners have told us the convention center is subpar compared to others," said Carolyn Dent, managing director for Omni Dallas Hotel. "And we lose out to Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, and New Orleans, who offer better, more modern facilities,"
Council members previously approved a plan to tear down the current convention center and build a new one.
If approved by voters, the hotel tax increase would generate $1.2 billion for the project.
"It's a sea of concrete, Frankenstein buildings, no walkability, no sense of community. This will right that wrong," Dallas City Councilman Chad West said.
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And it's not just the convention center, but also Fair Park that could get rejuvenated as a tourist destination.
Coupled with a new state law that allows cities to collect more hotel tax revenue, Fair Park's share under this deal could be as much $300 million over 30 years.
It’s what State Representative Rafael Anchia called the largest capital investment in Fair Park's history.
"This, with other revenue streams, will make this the crown jewel of our Dallas parks," Anchia said.
But Dallas City Councilwoman Mendelsohn cast the lone vote against the deal, pointing out the city is still $200 million in debt on the current convention center.
"We don't know the true cost of the plan. There hasn't been an independent analysis of the project," she said.
The money for Fair Park would go toward facilities that are designed to attract visitors year-round, such as the music hall, Cotton Bowl, and coliseum.
It's important to note that this begins the process of getting the proposal to voters. The goal is to get it on the November ballot.