New Braunfels Civic Center 101
It has been very enjoyable for me to listen to many citizens speak out on the importance of our current Civic Convention Center during the S. Castell Visioning process. I can tell you that this was not always the case, even from some now feigning support for the facility.
My history with this building goes back to 1974, when as a college student I attended a wedding in New Braunfels and the reception was held in the original Civic Center. I didn’t know it at the time, but the building was just three years old then, having been approved by voters in a 1968 bond issue. It passed by a little over 50 votes.
When I started work for the Chamber of Commerce in 1988 as the Convention & Visitors Bureau Director, a major part of my job then was to manage and rent out the facility. There were three to four employees and an annual budget of $55,000. Rent covered the maintenance and operating costs. Even then, multiple day out-of-town events took precedence over single day local events due to the City wanting to maximize the impact on the local economy and to abide by state room occupancy laws.
In circa 2000, an offer to build a Convention Center off Gruene Road was received by the City. Those opposing the idea gathered a petition and changed how local room tax revenue could be expended to stop the project. Demand on the 1971 facility continued to grow, especially with our population growth. Six years later we were able to pass a City wide vote to allow the use of room tax revenue to go toward an expansion of the old facility. During that six year delay, the cost of construction doubled from $6 to $12 million. One opposition theme was that by expanding the Civic Center we would bring in prostitution to our fair City. This proved to be as far-fetched as it sounded at the time.
When Mayor Boyer took office, he led the effort to see our community benefit from a larger facility and to have it paid for by non-property taxes and sales taxes. The Chamber agreed to decrease visitor-paid room tax promotional funding from more than 74% of the total collected to 50%. The City added that 24% to the already 11% it had earmarked for the old facility to be able to cover the debt service and some of the maintenance and operations. Rental income soared to over $400,000 annually, a far cry from the $55,000 in the late 1980’s.
Expanding the existing facility without a hotel associated allowed us to pursue approximately 56% of the out of town convention market. City Hall was still operating at the S. Castell site as well as the Chase Bank drive through lot. Usage of the expanded facility has remained at around 70% local use since 2008. That is important since the funds used to debt service the structure and in large part to maintain it are paid from room occupancy funds. The operation is designed an “Enterprise Fund” by the City, meaning that it is self-sufficient and does not normally require property or sales tax to operate or debt service it.
With City Hall relocated to 500 Landa Street, the Chase Bank drive thru lot gone, and the railroad studying ways to relocate to a more strategic site, Mayor Castell asked for the property to be converted to tax-producing so that the community could benefit from the site. In addition, the Downtown Implementation Plan of 2010-11 and the City Economic Development Strategic Plan of 2012-16 called for a project to assist in sustaining the downtown area and Civic Convention Center.
Since 1971 the community has benefited from having the Civic Center, now Civic Convention Center. It has changed with the times and will continue to do so.