As Irving officials prepare for the long-awaited arrival of light rail and wrestle with how to handle two stalled development efforts that cost tens of millions of dollars, the long-dormant initiative for a convention center hotel is picking up steam.
The City Council is expected to choose a private partner this summer to develop a hotel adjacent to the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. Officials and business leaders see such a facility as vital to generating more business for the city-owned convention center and spurring more development in the Urban Center.
Officials have planned to build a hotel in between the convention center and the planned entertainment center for years. Hotel plans were put on the back burner as officials focused on the entertainment complex, whose fate is in limbo after the city learned it can’t afford its planned $170 million contribution.
“We should have been working on the hotel at the same time as the convention center,” said Chris Wallace, president and CEO of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.
The $133 million convention center, with its unique architecture, opened last year. Officials say they’re doing well with bookings, but the lack of a hotel within walking distance prevents them from luring hundreds of state and national association meetings and conferences.
“One of their minimum requirements is an adjacent or attached headquarters hotel,” said Maura Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates out of the convention center.
While officials say operations are successful, the city has recently experienced about a $2 million annual shortfall on the debt payments for the convention center’s construction. The city backed the debt with hotel occupancy taxes and financed the construction based on pre-recession revenue estimates that didn’t pan out.
Officials hope that convention bookings lured by a hotel will prompt enough attendees to fill the city’s new project and send overflow guests to nearby properties, thus increasing overall hotel tax revenues.
“It’s not meant to capture all the attendees,” Gast said. “But you’ve got to be able to give the event organizer a bank of rooms at a convention-friendly rate.”
City officials are vetting two hotel proposals from developers, each of which has a well-known national hotel brand attached to it. In both proposals, the city and its development partner would each contribute to the project.