The new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will need to be altered and shifted north into downtown to accommodate construction on Interstate 30 and existing Union Pacific railroad tracks. City staff told a Dallas City Council committee on Monday that plans for the convention center now place the extension closer to the old Dallas Morning News headquarters, near Young and Houston streets.
Dallas voters in 2022 approved a two-cent increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax to help pay for it. The tax revenue will repay nearly $3 billion in bond money that covers the costs of constructing the new convention center and investing about $300 million into improvements in Fair Park.
Rosa Fleming, the city’s director of convention and event services, on Monday outlined a plan to the Council’s economic development committee that envisions the convention center at the heart of redevelopment plans that stretch east into the Farmers Market as well as north to the neighboring Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station.
Fleming said the new convention center would need to move from the southwest corner of Memorial Drive and Hotel Street near I-30 to a location that appears to include the southern half of the former Dallas Morning News property on Young Street. It is not clear whether the city will need to purchase any land from Ray Washburne, who bought the Dallas Morning News site in 2019 when the newspaper moved to Commerce Street.
The footprint changed to accommodate requests from the Texas Department of Transportation, which needed space for construction staging and equipment as it expands and lowers Interstate 30.
“There’s not an option for them not to use these spaces,” Fleming said of TxDOT’s request, which the city does not expect to delay the 2028 completion of the new convention center.
The exterior of the new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center would look much like the renderings seen at previous briefings, and the size of the facility would remain the same at 2.5 million square feet. The planned convention center would more than double the size of the convention center’s largest current ballroom space and its breakout meeting space.
“The orientation won’t change, the number of stories will not change, but we’ll have to move the building back,” Fleming said. “We want to make sure that you can really get the vantage points of downtown, the vantage points into South Dallas with the glass building that really makes use of the urban and green space environment that we’ll create along Lamar Street and Botham Jean.”
The city will be able to eventually make use of the adjacent parking lot known as “Lot E” for logistics, parking, a plant to manage utilities for the complex, and a possible location on Canton Street to move the city’s existing vertiport or build a replacement for a fire station.
The new footprint is also meant to avoid conflict with the possible construction of a high-speed rail system near the convention center and create a more central location for various modes of travel, including existing Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail and buses and streetcar expansion. (That discussion has been going on since at least 2011.)
“As fair as the rail district, there has been significant discussion about the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station being a focal point as a transportation hub in the downtown area,” said assistant city manager Robert Perez. “This is consistent with the convention center master plan as well.”
The city is also working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to develop plans for an elevated sidewalk—or people mover—that would connect Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station to the convention center. The project would also allow for a deck park over I-30.
Perez said city staff is continuing to look at streetcar expansion to see if the McKinney Avenue Trolley and the Oak Cliff streetcar can be connected with a convention center loop, with potential expansion to other points in the city to come later.
That raised concerns with council members Adam Bazaldua, Carolyn King Arnold, and Tennell Atkins, who felt that the plans presented Monday were light on ways to also boost the economy of their three southern Dallas districts. In particular, Bazaldua, whose district includes Fair Park, pointed out that funding for improvements to the 377-acre fairgrounds were part of the sweetener to get voters to approve the hotel tax increase in 2022. This, despite the fact that the vast majority of the money raised would go to the convention center rebuild. He has also been vocal about routing a streetcar line to Fair Park.
“This is not giving anything to my constituents in South Dallas,” Bazaldua said. “And I also think that it’s important to look at what a missed opportunity this is to bring economic development to South Dallas.”
In September 2023, the city hired Inspire Dallas, which is connected to real estate development firm Matthews Southwest, to manage the project. Fleming said that staff will have more details on the changes to the project when they brief the entire council on March 6. The city will start soliciting bids for architecture, engineering, and design work in April, and construction will begin later this year.
If completed on time in 2028, Craig Davis, the president of Visit Dallas, said the convention center already has 41 bookings for the first quarter of 2029.