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$1.6 billion to expand Austin Convention Center

John Bleasby
$1.6 billion to expand Austin Convention Center
TURNER CONSTRUCTION — The Austin Convention Center will get a $1.6 billion makeover and reopen in late 2028.

In Austin, conventions are big business and growing every year. The Austin Convention Center plays host to more than 300,000 visitors annually, many of whom stay at the more than 12,000 downtown hotel rooms within a two-mile radius.

However, the current center is constrained by size and layout, limiting its ability to host ever-larger and multiple events simultaneously.

Recognizing the importance of the center as a downtown economic driver, Austin City Council has moved forward on redevelopment plans by awarding $1.6 billion in contracts for pre-construction and construction of a new facility.

According to an Austin Convention Center media release, costs for the redevelopment and expansion project will be funded from the center’s allocation from the municipal Hotel Occupancy Tax and Austin Convention Center revenues.

The team of Seattle-based LMN Architects and Austin-based Page Southerland Page (LMN/Page) will receive $65 million for design and engineering services for the center.

LMN has provided planning and design services for 70 convention centers. Teaming with Page’s more than 125 years of experience in multidisciplinary projects, it means a solid design and engineering base for the redevelopment.

The partnership will begin work in early 2024. The current center is expected to close and be demolished in 2025. The larger facility is slated to open in late 2028.

The conventions are too lucrative for the city to turn its back on them over the three-year course of the project.

From the closure of the center for demolition to the completion of the new facility, Austin will attempt to relocate the numerous incoming events.

Some of the alternate locations being considered include the city-owned Palmer Events Center, the Travis County Expo Center, Circuit of The Americas, the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions center in Round Rock, and the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center near the University of Texas at Austin. Additional space may also be available at some of the large downtown hotels like the Fairmont Austin and JW Marriott Austin.

The city believes the disruption will be worth it in the end.

Convention Center assistant director Katy Zamesnik told local media floor space in the new convention center will be approximately 710,000 square feet, almost double the current 363,000 square feet. She said the new building will reach its target size by growing vertically, possibly to four storeys, although this will be determined during the design process.

“The completed expansion project is estimated to generate an additional $285 million in yearly economic impact within the local community to over $750 million, and provide nearly $13 million in additional annual tax revenue to the city, and support over 1,600 additional jobs,” the convention center says.

JE Dunn Construction and Turner Construction will lead project construction.

They will use the Construction Manager-at-Risk (CMAR) delivery method which, according to a city presentation, is a process entailing a commitment by the construction manager to deliver the project within a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) based on the construction documents and specifications at the time of the GMP plus any reasonably inferred items or tasks.

The CMAR delivery method is said to improve co-ordination between the design team and the contractor.

Issues can be resolved early in design phases and a collaborative process formed to establish baseline scope, budget and schedule.

Other benefits include: Early cost knowledge acquired for decision making; early site investigations; cost, schedule and constructability analysis; subcontractor procurement planning; and an accelerated construction start.

Turner is the largest CMAR firm in the United States and has completed over 25 convention center projects across the country. Its Austin-based partner, JE Dunn Construction, has over 99 years of experience that includes 70 local projects.

Sustainability and ecological responsibility will continue to be important considerations in the new center.

The current center is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy from Austin Energy’s Green Choice Program. Fifty per cent of all waste generated is diverted from landfills through extensive recycling, reuse and composting programs. Carbon offsets purchased each year since 2013, and third-party verified, allows the center to claim carbon-neutrality.

“It is an honor for the JE Dunn and Turner Construction Joint Venture to be chosen for such a significant undertaking for the city of Austin,” said Graham Dewar, vice-president and general manager, Turner Construction Company. “This project will revitalize the Austin Convention Center, improving the experience for clients and guests alike, while improving the connectivity of downtown Austin.  We look forward to working with all our partners and the community on the construction of this new convention center.”

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