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The NRA's Dallas convention center deal: $5k to rent space, a $482k discount and a $445k subsidy

The "One Riot, One Ranger" branded Sig Sauer 1911 handgun.
Nathan Collins
/
KERA
Contracts between the National Rifle Association and the convention center's asset management firm, OVG260, show the gun-rights group received an over $480,000 rental discount and paid $5,000 to "execute" the contract for the venue. A subsidy covered the remaining $450,000 in rental costs.

The National Rifle Association got a deal when it rented space for its annual meeting in Dallas' city-owned convention center. The "space rental" for the gun rights group? According to contracts the city fought to keep secret for three months — $5,000.

The NRA also got a discount of almost $482,000 off the full rental price of $931,990. And in addition, a $445,000 subsidy covered the remaining balance. That's according to the contracts that KERA obtained through an open records request.

An amended contract signed in June 2023 stated that "rental of $445,000 to be paid by Visit Dallas." Visit Dallas is a not-for profit organization that has a contract with the City of Dallas to attract tourism to the city.

KERA reached out the City of Dallas for comment about the contracts. KERA also wanted to ask if it was common for large subsidies to be granted for similar events.

Jennifer Brown, a city spokesperson, told KERA in an email that "attracting large events with incentives is standard industry practice for destination marketing organizations." Brown added that "large events are subsidized by the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District (DTPID) — not Visit Dallas."

Brown said the rental fees were taken care of by DTPID funds, which Visit Dallas is contracted to administer "following approval by the DTPID Board of Directors."

The Dallas City Council approved a five-year contract renewal with Visit Dallas in 2020 to promote tourism. The contract included a decrease in the percentage of taxes the group can use when soliciting large groups or events to come to the city.

KERA also reached out to a Visit Dallas spokesperson about the group's role in the contract. Zane Harrington, director of communications for Visit Dallas, sent KERA a nearly identical response to Brown's.

"Dallas is in direct competition with much larger cities like Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando for highly valued convention and sports spend," Harrington said in an email.

"In order for Dallas to effectively compete, and as standard practice, DTPID will approve incentives for citywide groups that meet economic impact targets and that contract a minimum of 2,500 rooms on its peak nights."

City and convention officials tout conventions as a boost to the local economy — especially for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. But assessing the costs of discounts and subsidies vs. benefits can be complicated.

Both Harrington and Brown told KERA that "due to confidentiality" they were not "at liberty to provide examples of other groups that have qualified for DTPID incentives."

The deal

The original contract with the NRA for convention center space was signed in October 2019.

That agreement did not mention Visit Dallas — but it did detail the almost $482,000 rental discount the NRA would receive. It also stated the NRA would pay $5,000 in order to "execute" the contract.

But the contract was amended in 2023. That amended contract, obtained by KERA, stated that the remaining rental cost of $445,000 was "to be paid by Visit Dallas."

The incentives come from tourism public improvement district funds. Those are collected from hotel guests that stay in Dallas.

“By extension most of the people paying this rate are from out of town,” Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Dallas, told KERA. “It’s a tax and an assessment on a hotel bill.”

But Davis also emphasized that the funds were indeed public.

“I don’t want to parse words, it is still public funds,” Davis said. “It is taxed and just because it happens to be paid for by…high 90-something percent by people that don’t live here, doesn’t mean that its not important funds for the city.”

The city released unredacted copies of the contracts late Friday. KERA had filed an open records request for the contracts in February.

After that request was filed, the city sought to block their release and requested a ruling from the Office of the Texas Attorney General.

In the meantime, KERA requested copies of releasable portions of the documents it had requested. The City Attorney’s Office responded by sending two contracts between the NRA and the convention center with all dollar amounts redacted.

Brady Flanery, an assistant city attorney, wrote to the AG that release of the information KERA requested would "hinder the city's review and evaluation of the submitted proposals, impede the selection of a successful proposer, and obstruct the good faith negotiation of key terms of the services contract with the successful proposer."

The AG’s office ruled in early May — one week before the NRA’s convention was scheduled to begin — that the city couldn’t withhold the information.

The AG's office stated that the city had failed to demonstrate that a provision of the Texas Public Information Act allowing governments to protect information that could "harm its interests by providing an advantage to a competitor or bidder in a particular competitive situation..." applied to KERA's request.

“Therefore, we conclude the city may not withhold any portion of the submitted information under section 552.104(a) of the Government Code and it must be released,” Paige Lay, an assistant attorney general with the state’s open records division, wrote in the opinion.

The convention came and went without the city releasing the documents.

Earlier in 2024 — in March — Visit Dallas executives told KERA that the group had given the NRA an incentive to bring its annual convention to Dallas.

"DTPID did provide an incentive to the National Rifle Association based off their actual guest room pick-up, which will be known following the conclusion of the event," Visit Dallas Senior Vice President Jennifer Walker told KERA in a statement.

Davis said he wasn’t the one that made the call to fight release of the contracts — but that he doesn't usually share that information.

“We’re not being cagey, its because we’re in competition with every other city for that same business,” Davis said. “We don’t share that information with each other.”

Controversies

The tourism group has had executive turnover in recent years. A January 2019 audit report of Visit Dallas showed the city did not "have sufficient mechanisms in place to effectively evaluate services provided by Visit Dallas."

"As a result...the City cannot ensure compliance with Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) and Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District (DTPID) requirements," the audit said.

Robert Wilonsky, former city columnist for The Dallas Morning News, said in a 2019 article around the same time that the audit results meant "the city can't verify how or how well or where Visit Dallas spent the nearly $150 million that the city disbursed to the agency between fiscal years 2013 and 2017."

Months after the audit, then Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones stepped down from the organization, according to reporting by D Magazine.

The NRA's 2024 convention also attracted opposition from gun violence prevention advocates, gun control supporters — and a council member.

"The [NRA] does not stand for the spirit of America!" District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua posted on social media the day of the convention.

"We must rise up and we must say, no more! #killerbusiness," the post continued.

Bazladua posted a photo of himself at a protest outside of city hall held during the convention — holding a sign that reads "Protect us. Not the NRA."

Bazaldua sits on the Visit Dallas 2023-2024 Board of Directors.

Advocates with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action protested the NRA and gun violence outside city hall on the second day of the mid-May convention.

Miriam Sharma, the co-leader of the Moms Demand Action Dallas chapter, told KERA in March that the NRA’s annual event shouldn’t be taking place on city property

“We won’t stand for this, we won’t stand for them coming to our city to market to children,” Sharma said. “We have to know the gun industry, with the NRA acting as a shield, plays a major role in gun violence in America.”

Former President Donald Trump, along with other notable conservative personalities, spoke at the convention.

Trump told the crowd that the Second Amendment is "under siege."

"Let there be no doubt, the survival of the Second Amendment is on the ballot," Trump said. “They're coming for your guns."

Gov. Greg Abbott touted pro-gun rights legislation that has been passed on his watch, as well as his opposition to protests on colleges campuses.

"Another thing we don't tolerate in Texas, that is Joe Biden's open border policy,” Abbott said.

KERA's Caroline Love and Toluwani Osibamowo contributed to this article.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.