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Friday, September 30, 2022
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We recommend in the Dallas election to pay for convention center, Fair Park work

We Dallasites love our city’s dazzling skyline, its entertainment districts and its business savvy. But a closer inspection of some of our landmarks shows that sometimes reality doesn’t match our swagger, and that hurts our ability to attract tourism dollars.

The city’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center is losing business because it’s been poorly maintained throughout the decades, with addition after addition stitched onto what has become a sprawling monstrosity that nevertheless lacks enough meeting rooms and ballroom space. The desolate concrete beigeness that surrounds it is the opposite of a welcome mat.

And there’s Fair Park, home to the tallest Ferris wheel in Texas and one of the largest collections of art deco buildings and artwork in the world. It is a national treasure in our own backyard. Yet we’ve neglected it, allowing the fairgrounds to sit lifeless most of the time and its famed architecture to crumble. Dallas residents and visitors should enjoy Fair Park year round.

Dallas City Hall has a plan to turn the convention center and Fair Park around, and the mechanism it wants to use has been successful before. We urge Dallas residents to vote yes on Proposition A, which would allow the city to fund much-needed improvements to Fair Park and the convention center.

Voting yes would not raise taxes on residents but would raise the hotel occupancy tax that hotel and motel users pay from 13% to 15%. This modest increase allows Dallas hotels to remain competitive with those in neighboring cities and would raise $1.5 billion in public funds over 30 years. That money would be used to pay off the bonds that would finance a rebuild of the convention center and upgrades to parts of Fair Park.

The Fair Park structures that would see improvements are the Automobile Building, the Centennial Building, the Band Shell, the Music Hall, the Cotton Bowl and the Coliseum.

Most of the money raised would, however, go to the convention center, which has at least half a billion dollars in maintenance needs. Its roof is in such disrepair that Dallas spends $1 million every year just trying to catch leaks when it rains. Rosa Fleming, the city’s director of convention and event services, said Dallas sometimes loses booking opportunities because it can’t host two conventions at the same time, unlike some of its competitors.

Rebuilding the convention center makes the most sense. It would allow Dallas to design a building that better connects with the rest of downtown Dallas and that is a worthy anchor of an entertainment and business district.

The funding mechanism underpinning the projects is contemplated in a piece of state legislation called the Brimer Bill that allows hotel tax revenue to finance convention centers, sports arenas and entertainment centers. It was used to pay for the American Airlines Center.

A refreshed convention center and a revitalized Fair Park will do wonders for our city and for our businesses. We urge Dallas voters to say yes.

We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. See the guidelines and submit your letter here.

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