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Austin: City Chooses CMAR Method for $1.3 Billion Austin Convention Center Expansion Project

Feature Photo:  Street view of the Austin Convention Center. Image: Google Streets.

Posted: 6-15-2021

by Art Benavidez

Austin (Travis County) — City Council chose the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) method at the June 10 session for the $1.3 billion Austin Convention Center Expansion Project.

In a separate but related resolution, the city manager was directed to incorporate into a solicitation for Statements of Qualifications for the selection of professional services for a design team certain criteria described as follows:

  • The design shall incorporate the most innovative ideas in programming and placemaking and shall aim to create a civic building that draws and serves Austinites as well as visitors.
  • The City Council affirms its intention that the Convention Center be, like its companion civic building to the west, the Austin Central Library, a landmark of great distinction, a bustling and vital public gathering place, and a point of pride for the community.
  • The Convention Center design should engage the disparate elements of the eastern quadrant of Downtown identified in the Palm District Planning Initiative, including the iconic Rainey Street Historic District, Palm Park and Palm School, the Red River Cultural District, the Innovation District, Mexican‐American Heritage Corridor, Project Connect and the Downtown Station, Waller Creek, and historic Brush Square, and the design shall seize the opportunities and solve for the challenges and conflicts presented by these multiple uses.
  • Respondents must exhibit knowledge of and be committed to the goals of the Palm District Planning Initiative, the UT Center for Sustainable Development’s “Frameworks for Placemaking,” the Urban Land Institute’s Technical Advisory Panel (in response to Council Resolution No. 20141211‐218); the Downtown Austin Alliance‐commissioned 2020 Urban Land Institute Advisory Services Panel Report for the I‐35 Corridor; the Waterloo Greenway/Waller Creek Design Plan; the Downtown Austin Alliance’s Downtown Vision; and other City of Austin initiatives including citizen input in design processes, sustainability, Urban Design Guidelines, Great Streets, Art in Public Places, family‐friendly features per policy direction in Resolution No. 20120301‐051; and team participation by minority and women‐owned businesses.

The expansion project is expected to give the center over 360,000 square feet of new exhibit space, 180,000 square feet of meeting space and 184,000 square feet of ballroom/flex hall space.

The expansion would double the rental space that the center currently offers as well as fulfilling the city’s desire to use the building as a community-oriented centerpiece of the Palm District, thus “transforming the southeast gateway into downtown Austin.”

Councilwoman Kathie Tovo amended the original wording of the resolution, which was going to direct the city manager to partner with a consultant to host a design competition, but it wasn’t a viable option and that a feasibility study would determine if the scope of work for the convention center expansion was still viable given that their prior study was done before the pandemic changed the economy. 

“We had started out trying to do a design competition, which was very exciting, except it’s not possible really within the framework of the city,” she said. “An idea was suggested by the Downtown Austin Alliance that nothing about the CMAR method that’s being recommended would preclude us from doing two things. One (was) working with any private partnerships. If we wanted to have a public partnership on the side of the convention center and it would not preclude us from, two, a potential collaboration with the Austin Economic Development Corporation.”   

Tovo said that as consideration for the expansion continues to unfold that an accurate financial feasibility study would also be conducted.

“We’ll be coming back after the summer break with the updated feasibility study and proof of concept,” she said. “We’re not going to take that next step until we really understand the financial (dynamics) and whether they’ve changed and (then we) can proceed forward in a way that makes good sense from multiple directions.”  

In September, VBX reported that the city purchased two city blocks west of the convention center for $6.3 million.

The Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St., is a four-story building that takes up three-city blocks, with 881,000 square feet.  

Minority-owned and woman-owned business enterprise participation goals will be established prior to issuance of CMAR.

Based on current planning assumptions, the expansion will occur in three phases.

Currently, city staff estimates on the project timeline for completion of the total expansion, starting from when phase one construction begins, range from eight to ten years.

The first phase of the expansion project is expected to begin construction by the summer of 2024.

The existing convention center would remain open and operational while the expansion takes place.

The second phase of expansion would be the demolition and replacement of the southern part of the current convention center.

In the third phase of expansion, the north part of the current convention center would be demolished and replaced. 

City Manager Spencer Cronk will notify the council once solicitation for the project takes place.

VBX Project ID 2015-2955


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By |2021-06-15T12:21:06-05:00June 15th, 2021|Construction Preview, Feature Story|

About the Author:

Art Benavidez (Construction News Reporter, Central Texas) is a seasoned journalist with over 15-years of experience in writing breaking news and in-depth features at the local level. He honed his research and reporting skills in newspapers and magazines throughout South and West Texas along with expertise in crafting digital content as Managing Editor of New Image Marketing Research Corporation. Benevidez is a Texas native and graduate of UT-RGV.

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