More Expansion for The Neal Kocurek Memorial Austin Convention Center?
by Jeanne Brei
Home of the Texas Rollergirls, former home to the Austin Toros basketball team (until their move to the Cedar Park Center) and the primary “home base” for the internationally renowned South by Southwest technology, music and film conference/festival, held annually in March, the Neal Kocurek Memorial Austin Convention Center wears many hats as a multi-purpose convention center. Renamed in 2004 after civic leader Dr. W. Neal Kocurek (1936–2004), who had helped rally community support for its construction, the NKMACC finds itself at the center of a debate on whether or not to expand again.
In 1983, the city council unveiled a concept for a $35 million convention center as part of a $350 million complex of hotels and parkland on the south shore of Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake). Downtown business leaders and neighborhood groups protested the proposed site and a downtown site near Waller Creek was selected. Financing was provided for by a $69 million bond sale, approved by referendum in 1989 and the center opened on July 4, 1992.
On September 1, 1999, construction began on an expansion aimed at nearly doubling the size of the facility from 441,000 to 881,400 square feet. The grand reopening took place on May 18, 2002. The enlarged Convention Center’s five exhibit halls have a combined 247,052 square feet of column-free space with 54 meeting rooms and two ballrooms, including one of the largest ballrooms in Texas with 40,510 square feet.
Last year, the Austin Business Journal wrote about the latest proposed expansion to the center and the issues involved, including the millions of dollars in debt outstanding on the property. The expansion proposal gained traction last year after local Austin computer giant, Dell Technologies Inc., decided to hold its annual convention in Las Vegas in 2017. Dell had held the event in Austin for many years, but executives determined that the Austin Convention Center was not large enough after Dell’s acquisition of EMC Corp. in September of 2016.
Many of the large draws are local events such as the fall and spring home shows, the Austin boat show, Comic Cons, etc., but they aren’t considered economic generators since the locals don’t usually stay in hotels. But attendance at SWSX, the annual 10-day music, film and interactive festival has risen steadily since 2012 when it brought in 62,200 people—and has brought in around 150,000 attendees for the last couple of years, generating about 60,000 hotel room nights.
At this point none of the additional land has been acquired by the Convention Center. City Council approval is needed for the center to get the land, so stay tuned as expansion plans continue to simmer.
Convention Center Snapshot: The Austin Convention Center
Location: 500 E. Cesar Chavez Street, Austin, TX 78701
Year Opened: 1992
Square Footage: The ACC is 881,400 gross square feet and covers covers eight city blocks – between Trinity and Red River, and from Cesar Chavez to Fourth Streets. The five contiguous exhibit halls have 246,097 sq.ft. of column-free space, 54 meeting rooms and show offices with more than 58,000 sq.ft., and two ballrooms, including one with 43,300 sq. ft.
Awards: 2011 – LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification Presented by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), National Prime Site Award Winner, 14th Consecutive Year, Presented by Facilities & Destinations magazine
Readers’ Choice Award – Best Convention Center 2009, Presented by Texas Meetings & Events magazine
2017 “Smart Stars” Award from Smart Meetings magazine Eight time winner of Readers’ Choice Awards, Presented by Convention South magazine
Parking: There’s 1,685 parking spots in two parking garages; street parking is also available.
Wi-Fi: The ACC has complimentary wi-fi throughout the convention center
Guest Services: There’s an on-site gift shop selling snacks and souvenirs; a retail kiosk; an on-site Business Center featuring computer terminals, fax machines and scanners; and a flight arrival/departure board with information straight from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA).
Hotels: There are more than 8,500 hotel rooms in the downtown area, including the 31-story, 800-room Hilton Austin located directly across from the facility’s north side.
Public Transit: Both Capital Metro and MetroRail go to the convention center
Fun Fact #1: 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats take flight each evening from below the Congress Avenue Bridge on Lady Bird Lake – just steps from the convention center. The ACC is just 2.3 miles from the University of Texas campus.
Fun Fact #2: Downtown Austin has live music playing at more than 250 venues on any given evening—and the convention center is just steps away from the famous Sixth Street and Warehouse District areas. Or stroll or jog along beautiful Lady Bird Lake, which bisects the center of town and is bordered by 10 miles of hike-and-bike trails.
These stories originally appeared in the July/August issue of Exhibit City News, pp. 10 & 60. For more pictures and original layout, visit http://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecnflipbook_julyaugust2018_web?e=16962537/62860459