Convention center plans up for look

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Al Key/DRC
The hillside by the duck pond on the former University of North Texas golf course and Radisson Hotel site in Denton, shown Nov. 19, 2013, may become the site of a hotel and convention center.

Public forum to offer residents a chance to weigh in on proposal

The Denton Neighborhood Association is organizing a public forum for Wednesday evening so that residents can learn more about the city’s proposed convention center and the public-private partnership that will pay for it.

The group, perhaps best known for its annual city candidate forum each spring, planned the forum after the city held its first public hearing on the matter in June. The convention center plans have been in the works for years.

The city is in the final days of a feasibility period with the developer and his investors. Both the city and O’Reilly Hospitality Management Partners are looking at construction bids to see whether they can afford the city’s 100,000-square-foot convention center and O’Reilly’s 300-room hotel. The project will be built on University of North Texas land next to Apogee Stadium.

A vote on the deal is expected at the City Council’s July 15 meeting.

Residents who are concerned about the project haven’t found many opportunities to talk about it, said Patrice Lyke, president of the association.

“For a deal like this, all these little steps have to be taken; and some may need to be taken in closed sessions,” Lyke said. “But all those baby steps add up to a giant step.”

The public hearing in June was one of those final baby steps. The City Council held the hearing in order to create a tax-increment reinvestment zone to help finance the project.

With the zone, the city has asked Denton County to contribute about $2.3 million, and the Denton school district about $4 million, to help pay for the convention center’s construction and financing.

Denton resident Mike Cochran said he invited the city staff to come present the project. He hopes that council members will be on hand, too, to hear what residents have to say.

The forum will begin at 7 p.m. in the Commissioners Court at the Courthouse on the Square.

Organizers will have residents fill out cards to speak. Each resident will get five minutes at the podium, and will be able to speak their concerns and ask questions.

“There will be an opportunity for an actual give-and-take,” Cochran said.

The city has held more than 20 meetings on the project. Cochran said he re-read past agendas to look for public input. Nearly half of the discussions were in closed session.

The other discussions were part of council work sessions, which are held in the afternoon and allow for limited public input, Cochran said.

At the first public hearing June 17, seven of the nine residents who spoke were opposed to the project. Representatives of the Denton Chamber of Commerce came to support the project, but did not speak.

Two residents gave qualified support for the project — John Siegmund and UNT public administration professor Bob Bland. Bland urged the council to seek more independent analysis of the project before going ahead.

Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas at San Antonio public administration professor, has analyzed urban economic development around convention centers nationwide. His book, Convention Center Follies, was released by the University of Pennsylvania Press last month.

Cochran, a former City Council member, said he, too, was concerned about the process for such a large project that will last a long time.

“We could do so much better with public input,” Cochran said. “But no one has asked our opinion.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

 

IF YOU GO

What: Public forum on proposed convention center

Who: Denton Neighborhood Association

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Denton County Commissioners Court, Courthouse on the Square


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