Just nine months away from the opening of an expansion at the Austin Convention Center that will double its size, a construction frenzy has broken out in downtown Austin. Developers eager to take advantage of the expected increase in conventions and meetings at the center continue to break ground on new hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
When completed in spring 2002, the convention center will double in size to 881,400 square feet, which includes a 43,300-square-foot grand ballroom, the Largest in Texas. The $110 million project also adds two new column-free exhibit halls and an additional 18 meeting rooms. With the expansion, the center offers 47 meeting rooms, five exhibition halls, and four ballrooms.
In addition to the convention center expansion, the biggest boost to Austin's growing meetings market comes from a new convention center hotel. Construction on the 802-room Hilton Austin Convention Center Hotel began in June. The 29-story property, located directly across from the center, is expected to open in January 2004. The property also includes 93 residential units, a 750-space underground parking garage, and retail space.
With the addition of this hotel, Austin gains access to larger conventions requiring room blocks that had previously been unavailable in the city's tight hotel market. The hotel rounds out a total of 50 new properties and more than 7,000 rooms added to Austin's hotel inventory since 2000.
Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau's sales staff is offering special rates for qualified groups booking meetings during the 18 months (June 1, 2002 through December 31, 2003) between the opening of the convention center expansion and the opening of the new hotel.
"This is a great time to book a convention in Austin," says Ric Luber, Austin CVB executive director. "Our convention center has been one of the most successful in the country since it opened eight years ago and with this expansion, we're certainly entering an exciting new era."
Also under construction just a block away from the center, a 209-room Hampton Inn & Suites offers accommodations in the heart of downtown and near the excitement of Austin's famed entertainment districts. The Hampton hotel is scheduled to open in October 2002. These additions bring the city's room count to 4,400 downtown rooms and 20,000 citywide.
Obviously, the No. 1 question in the minds of visitors to any city, whether for business or pleasure, is where to eat. There's no shortage of incredible restaurants in Austin--everything from down-home barbecue joints and Tex-Mex eateries to nationally recognized fine-dining establishments. An array of choices surround the convention center.
Two new restaurants have opened directly across the street from the center and a third is under construction. Part of the acclaimed California-based chain, P.F. Chang's China Bistro and Fleming's Prime Steak House & Wine Bar are the newest additions to the downtown dining scene. Roy's Restaurant, which serves innovative Euro-Asian cuisine, opens later this year to complete the trio.
Across from the front entrance of the center sits Shoreline Grill and The Cafe at the Four Seasons, both among the city's most popular restaurants. Along Red River, which borders the east side of the convention center, are Iron Works Barbecue and Emilia's, which offers elegant Continental fare in the understated surroundings of an 18th-century German mercantile building. Emilia's chef, Will Packwood, has been ranked among the top 10 young chefs in the country.
In addition to the flurry of growth surrounding the convention center, Austin is also adding a new civic center to its inventory of meeting facilities. The new Lester E. Palmer Events Center opens in summer 2002 along the shores of Town Lake, also located downtown.
This 131,000-square-foot center includes a 70,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall. The first level exhibit space can be divided into two halls of 45,000 and 25,000 square feet. There will also be 5,000 square feet of meeting rooms on the second level with views of the surrounding parkland and lake.