Since 2014, Kenedy city officials have talked about the possibility of building a convention center, and after delays, dead ends and discussion, the idea is taking center stage once again.
The topic was the subject of a recent city council workshop attended by six community members who offered their input on the potential project. Although there are multiple sites which have been considered, the leading contender is property at Joe Gulley Park in a vacant field off of Nottingham and Bellaire streets.
Despite years of attention given to the possibility of a convention center, the project was shelved when it was determined there weren’t enough parking spaces to build the facility near the park’s soccer fields. A change in city management also resulted in different priorities, but the purchase of additional property at Nottingham Lane on the northern side of the proposed site has made the project viable once again.
The city was able to purchase eight lots in the area that has made locating a convention center at the park a possibility again.
City Manager William Linn said he sees the convention center as a great opportunity for the community.
“The convention center has been promised to the community since 2014,” he told the council. “We need to be the governing body that makes it happen for these residents. Whether we do it this budget year or the first part of the next budget year, we need to break ground very soon.”
The city has saved about $2 million in its hotel occupancy tax (HOT) funds — money that by state statute can only be spent for certain projects that promote tourism and the local convention and hotel industry. A convention center is one of the qualifying expenditures for the funds.
According to Texas statute: “local hotel occupancy tax revenues only may be spent to establish or enhance a convention center or visitor information center, cover the administrative expenses for registering convention delegates, pay for tourism-related advertising and promotions, fund arts programs or facilities that will directly promote tourism and hotel and convention activity, fund historic restoration or preservation projects that will enhance tourism and hotel and convention activity ... and pay for signage directing tourists to sights and attractions frequently visited by hotel guests. If the city cannot fit an expenditure within one of these nine categories, hotel occupancy tax revenues cannot be used for that purpose, unless a special state statute was passed to allow such additional uses.”
One woman attending the meeting voiced concerns about potential flooding from runoff, saying that is already a problem for many who reside in the subdivision near the park.
Linn said addressing those issues is a top priority for the city, and the work could be done more efficiently by combining it with construction on the convention center. He also pointed to a grant application in which the city would only have to fund 1 percent of the cost of work done to alleviate drainage problems.
“For example: if it costs $30 million to fix drainage problems around the city, the city of Kenedy would only have to pay $300,000” if it receives that grant, Linn said.
He added that combining efforts to alleviate drainage issues and begin convention center construction would avoid the added expense of having to do some of the same work twice, saving taxpayers money.
“It makes good economic sense to do it that way,” Linn said. “If a convention center is done properly you can fix the drainage problem simultaneously. In any instance we’re going to address that and get it taken care of. ... It’s on my radar, it’s just a matter of how we get it done. I’m looking to make sure the residents of Kenedy aren’t out any undo amount of money.”
Councilman Leslie Wynn voiced his support for building a convention center for the community.
“We have the money that can give you an amazing convention center,” he said.
Councilman Douglas Meyer said he agreed.
“There is an opportunity to do something to benefit not just Kenedy but Karnes County as a whole that will attract people here,” he said.
A woman attending the workshop said she was an event planning specialist with more than 20 years experience and added that a convention center could help attract a lot more money to the area as a venue for both business events and weddings.
“We’re all looking for a place that will sustain itself financially, and like Mr. Linn said, success brings success,” said Mayor Joe Baker. “If it’s marketed effectively then it can be a great thing, not just for Kenedy but for the broader community as well.”
Two options presented previously to the council were for a 29,000 square foot facility and a 16,000 square foot venue.
Linn said he thought the 16,000 square foot option was big enough to accommodate most needs for the community while also being small enough to remain quaint.
“If we’re going to spend money on something, we should spend it on something that has multiple uses,” Meyer said, adding that he would like to see an outdoor feature of some type as part of the convention center to enhance the appeal of the venue.
Council members agreed to seek proposals for the convention center and explore the options at an upcoming council workshop which would solicit community input.
“I would like to see Kenedy have a convention center — we need it,” Wynn said. “A convention center will bring 200 to 300 people to the city every time it’s open.” He added that he thought the park setting would be the best option for the location because of the added visual appeal.
“In order for us and citizens to make decisions, we need to have (a design plan).”
A more detailed idea of the proposed convention center’s amenities will be presented at upcoming council meetings.