I have been in two successful campaigns for City Council in the last three years, which involved about 20 candidate forums. Each time the question of a convention center was raised, I said I was for the concept and would vote for it if the development agreement represented a good deal for the city. All of the other successful council candidates over the last three years took similar positions.
In order to vote against the agreement now, I would need compelling reasons to ignore the facts that have been shown to me or to abandon a promise I made to voters during my campaigns. I would guess that other council members feel the same.
There are several reasons why a convention center would be good for Denton. First, many Denton businesses and civic organizations have to go to other cities in the area to hold events because we have no venue that is large enough. Both Texas Women’s University and the University of North Texas hold regional, national and international conferences in other cities because of inadequate facilities here in our town.
Denton is a destination for businesses and commerce. This creates demand for a facility that can accommodate conferences, conventions and meetings, but unfortunately Denton does not have a facility to meet this demand. According to conservative convention and visitors bureau metric reports, more than $11 million of lost opportunity has been directed to other cities since January 2008, specifically because of Denton’s inadequate meeting space.
Under the current design, the convention center will have capacity to host 2,000 people for a single-day, banquet-type event and 750 people for multi-day events and conferences. Currently, the largest meeting facility in Denton can only accommodate conferences of fewer than 250 people.
Also, the convention center project will generate a positive economic impact in the community. Convention delegates spend 2 to 2.5 times the amount of leisure travelers, contributing an average of $140 per day, per delegate to the local economy. Conservative estimates project that delegate spending alone will generate $13 million of economic activity in Denton each year.
The project also presents an opportunity to create 200 to 250 new jobs in Denton and generate new taxable value on property owned by UNT that is currently tax-exempt. This includes new tax revenue to the Denton school district and to Denton County from property that currently produces no revenue for them.
Most importantly, the project is expected to be self-funded. This means that no local city revenue outside of that primarily generated by hotel occupancy funds, almost entirely from the project itself, will be needed to pay for the convention center or its operational costs. The development agreement approved by all parties provides long-term protections for the city regarding this point.
The city’s careful development of this proposal has included independent market analysis, a preliminary project financing plan and review of numerous financial scenarios to ensure its successful implementation.
It has been discussed in numerous public meetings and is often the subject of both print and media news reports. The City Council and staff have fielded many e-mails and phone calls from citizens offering their input and suggestions. Still, there are those who would say that project has been developed without any public comment.
Let’s be clear, this project has been open to public dialogue and input for three years.
Three council campaign cycles means there were about 30 candidate forums where the issue was discussed and debated. The city has hosted 23 meetings that have included stakeholders, neighborhood groups, Planning and Zoning Commission, other governmental entities, City Council work sessions, regular meetings and public hearings. The development agreement approved by the City Council has been available for public examination since November 2013.
Years of study and careful analysis have brought us to this point. I can’t begin to offer the details of the project in this space. For more information about the project, visit the City of Denton website at www.cityofdenton.com.
Cities become great and stay great by preparing for the future while also building on their unique culture. While we love our small-town feel, there is no denying that Denton is growing. We need to make sure that the growth improves and enhances the climate and culture of our town. This convention center would do just that.
DALTON GREGORY is a Denton City Council member.