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Raleigh Gets Advice From Texas About Proposed Convention Center

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County and Raleigh leaders hope to learn from other cities' mistakes. They heard from the former mayor of a city where a new convention center is successful, but only after some hurdles.

Like Raleigh, Austin is a capital city. The Texas town has a major university and a high-tech focus. It also has a fairly new convention center.

"They have areas that are great people movers with escalators," Wake County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said.

Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson came to Raleigh to talk about the ups and down of its center. The Austin Convention Center opened in 1992, but it was not big enough. Like in Raleigh, there were skeptics, and Watson said the city scaled back its plans.

"I think they pulled back more than they should have. They should have built at the time more of what was needed. I don't see Raleigh making that mistake," he said.

Through a bond referendum, Austin doubled the size of its new convention center in 1998. Raleigh's new center will be twice as big as the existing one. Just last summer, Austin added a hotel to the convention center.

"They had a number of hotels in the area, but no real headquarters hotel adjacent to their center. They've now taken care of that program," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "Here in Raleigh/Wake County, we are trying to open the headquarters hotel open the day the center does."

Austin officials found a convention center hotel really made a difference. Once the center opened, they said new restaurants and new hotels opened nearby. Raleigh officials are hoping for the same results.

Raleigh also hopes to imitate Austin's growing tax base downtown, led by its new and improved convention center.


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