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Dallas approves a hotel tax that will fund a plan to bridge downtown with South Dallas

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.
Keren Carrión
Dallas plans to replace the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.

Dallas moved forward with a funding plan Wednesday to replace its convention center and build new parks. City leaders said the plan would bridge downtown with South Dallas. And they hope it will right the wrong of decades of neglect and racism that isolated and segregated Black and Latino communities.

The city council approved a resolution that establishes a 2% hotel and motel tax that will help fund the replacement of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center with an entirely new building west of Lamar Street, as well as repairs to several buildings at Fair Park.

But Dallas residents would still need to approve that in a referendum on the November ballot. Texas law allows the City of Dallas to finance venues and specific projects by taxing hotels and motels.

“This is just a once in a lifetime opportunity that is a true investment to the south of our city,” said Council Member Adam Bazaldua. He represents South Dallas, including Fair Park.

Bazaldua said the new convention center project will include new parks where residents and tourists can explore and increase access to downtown from South Dallas.

Council Member Chad West said if you walk around the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, "it is a sea of concrete, Frankenstein buildings, no walkability whatsoever and no sense of community.”

“This will right that wrong,” West said.

Other council members said the project will transform downtown Dallas and attract new visitors.

The resolution was approved with a 14-1 vote.

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn opposed the tax increase. She said that she couldn’t agree with the resolution without knowing the full cost of the convention center plan.

The city estimates it would generate $1.5 billion over the next 30 years. The funding will be divided between the two projects: the new convention center and Fair Park repairs.

The largest portion of the money would go to the convention center. But city leaders said they would make their “best efforts” to dedicate 20% of that funding to Fair Park for repairs and improvements to certain buildings. Those include the Automotive Building, the Band Shell, the Music Hall, the Cotton Bowl and the Coliseum.

Council Member Carolyn King Arnold wants the plan to create job opportunities for Black and brown residents “who need to be a part of the design, the engineering, not just working construction,” she said.

Several people spoke out in favor of the resolution. Those included State Representative Rafael Anchía, Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, as well as representatives of Downtown Dallas, Inc., the Regional Black Contractors Association, the Hotel Association of North Texas.

"These funds will directly benefit the surrounding communities. This is an investment in equity and will create impactful opportunities for South Dallas. This investment will greatly accelerate the revitalization of the campus," said Kimberly Shaw, the President of the Regional Black Contractors Association.

City officials have previously said the new building could be ready in five years.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Alejandra at You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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Alejandra Martinez is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). She's covering the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities and the city of Dallas.