Mar. 13-AUSTIN, Texas-Dallas’ political heavyweights descended on the Capitol
on Wednesday, seeking support for legislation that would fund a convention
Mayor Laura Miller, seven City Council members and other local officials told
members of the House Economic Development Committee that building a hotel
adjacent to the newly expanded convention center is the key to making Dallas a
destination for conventioneers.
“The question remains: If we build it, will they come?” Rep. Steve Wolens told
Groups that don’t give Dallas a second look could be coaxed to come to North
Texas if the convention center had an adjoining hotel, the Dallas Democrat
said. And spillover from large conventions would benefit other downtown
hotels, he said.
The committee is considering a bill that would allow the city to build a hotel
and use the new occupancy taxes to finance construction. City officials have
discussed building a $265 million hotel and hiring a private company to manage
Opponents argued that the project would be a bad deal for taxpayers and that
the city should stay out of the hotel business. The project would siphon
travelers from existing hotels, they said.
After hearing four hours of testimony, the committee took no action on the
Mr. Wolens, who wrote the hotel bill, and his wife, Ms. Miller, who testified
in support of the legislation, provided the city’s one-two punch at the
Officials from Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston, as well as Hilton and
Marriott executives, also lobbied for the bill.
Houston officials successfully sought similar legislation a decade ago. The
city’s new hotel is scheduled to open in November.
Mr. Wolens’ legislation would have permitted only Dallas to use occupancy
taxes to pay for a convention hotel. But a substitute bill would include any
city with a population of at least 250,000.
Jordy Tollett, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and
Visitors Bureau, said the hotel has given the city a leg up in luring
conventions. Fourteen groups signed on with Houston the day the city broke
ground for the hotel, he said.
A convention center hotel has become a necessity for a number of
organizations, said Greg Elam, senior vice president of the Dallas Convention
& Visitors Bureau. At least 60 groups won’t even consider coming to Dallas
simply because conventioneers must trek from the center to hotels scattered
across downtown, he said.
“This is the most important single step we can take for the viability of
Dallas for some conventions,” Mr. Elam said.
But some committee members questioned whether Dallas would really be on equal
footing with cities such as Las Vegas and New Orleans by virtue of having a
“I’m wondering what other attractions besides the hotel are going to be able
to bring people to Dallas,” said Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston.
That’s a familiar refrain in Dallas, Ms. Miller said after the hearing.
“We understand that we’ve got to provide more things for people to do in
Dallas,” she said.
The planned Trinity River project is evidence that city leaders are thinking
big, Ms. Miller said.
Opponents of the hotel bill argued that it’s bad business to build a hotel on
the backs of taxpayers.
If a convention center hotel were likely to make money, “for-profit hotel
chains would be beating down the doors at City Hall,” said Peggy Venable,
director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy.
She said the state should not submit to pressure to keep pace with other
cities’ tax-subsidized projects.
“If Las Vegas builds the Taj Mahal, do we have to do the same to compete?” she
Bruce Walker, president of Source Strategies Inc., presented lawmakers a study
that he said shows definitively that convention center hotels do not attract
“Convention center hotels do not create their own demand,” he said In Dallas,
there’s no evidence of need for additional hotel rooms, Mr. Walker said. “A
new hotel is going to steal from other hotels,” he said.
Mr. Walker, who has also worked for Holiday Inn, studied 16 large Texas
Proponents of the bill disputed his findings because he examined hotels that
were simply near – and not necessarily adjacent to – convention centers.
Hotels attached to convention centers have been more successful than those
even a block or two away, they said.