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Last Friday Unconventional Austin filed a citizen initiative petition of 30,000 signatures with the Austin City Clerk. If the city clerk certifies that at least 20,000 signatures are valid City of Austin voters, the petitioned ordinance will likely appear on this November's ballot.

Save Our Springs Alliance and Austin Independent Business Alliance have endorsed the petition. Also, as reported locally, several SOS supporters have been major contributors to the Unconventional Austin petition drive. While SOS endorses the petitioned ordinance, SOS general funds and membership donations have not been contributed to the petition drive.

The petitioned ordinance would require Austin voter approval for the proposed $1.2 billion convention center expansion. It would also redirect the majority of our hotel tourism dollars towards cultural, heritage and environmental projects that benefit both visitors and local residents - in short the people, places, and activities that make Austin Austin.

With the current convention center taking more than 72% of our hotel tax dollars, while generating fewer than 4% of our hotel visitors, the proposed expansion would lock in this massive transfer of wealth from Austin's unique culture and natural heritage - live music, the arts, local businesses, our beautiful parks and waterways-for the 30 year term of construction and operation financing. We encourage our members to learn more at Unconventional Austin.org.

Austin's musicians, artists and local businesses need our help. It’s time for action.t shirt design

The Save Our Springs Alliance endorses the Unconventional Austin citizen initiative petition and encourages everyone who loves Austin’s live music, vibrant arts, unique local businesses, and beautiful parks and waterways to sign and support it.  SOS joins with the Austin Independent Business Alliance in endorsing the citizen petitioned ordinance that would be considered by Austin voters on this November’s ballot.

Please take just a few minutes to read about the key details below. Read more and contribute to the petition drive at the Unconventional Austin website.

In short, people don’t come to Austin for the convention center.

Convention center visitors make up less than 4% of hotel visitors, yet the convention center consumes more than 72% of our hotel tax tourism dollars.

The convention center serves a useful function, hosting SXSW and other events, but it has failed to meet every projection for generating business. Annual operating losses were $22 million and $15 million the last two years alone.

Visitors are coming to Austin in droves for the things those of us lucky enough to live here love about our hometown: the authentic Austin of live music, iconic businesses and restaurants, the arts, and our natural beauty and clean water. But, many of the people, places and activities that visitors and residents love most are going away or suffering from decades of neglect and Austin’s affordability crisis.

These human, local business, and natural resources get little or none of our hotel tax dollars, even though that’s what is driving the rapid increase in hotel tax collections to exceed $100 million this year.

Special thank yous to everyone who wrote to Austin City Council urging them to oppose expansion of the convention center. Thank you!! Yesterday, May 23rd the Council did Convention Center2provide direction to the City Manager to begin planning for an expansion to the Downtown Convention Center; a project that is anticipated to cost well over $1.2 billion in public dollars. But, it's just a first step, and our messages made a difference.  Council Members Leslie Pool and Alison Alter added language to the resolution that requires the City Manager to perform a thorough cost/benefit analysis of the proposal, and to look at other options that would provide better returns on our tourism dollars. We need the council to take a step back and consider the opportunity costs of their decisions.

For years, the Austin Convention Center has consumed over seventy percent (70%) of Austin's annual allocation of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, but it generated less than four (4%) of the City's overnight visitors. Why would we continue to invest billions of dollars in an industry that provides such little return on our investment?  And especially when that money could and should be going to support our live music, arts, parks, and unique, local Austin businesses that we love and that actually do draw visitors to Austin.

This Thursday (5/23), the Austin City Council is poised to begin a process that will earmark over $1.2 billion of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue for yet another expansion of the Austin Convention Center. Over the last decade or so, Austin's tourism industry has been flourishing. The revenue generated from the Hotel Occupancy Tax (a tax applied to hotel room bookings) has been growing rapidly, while the total number of convention center delegates has remained relatively static. Why is this?

The answer is in our local artists, musicians, businesses and rare natural treasures like Barton Springs. The success of Austin's tourism industry is centered on our unique culture, heritage and the protection of our environmental resources.

In contrast, best estimates indicate that the Austin Convention Center generates less than four percent (4%) of Austin's overnight visitors; yet it receives over seventy percent (70%) of Austin's annual Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue. At a time when our local artists, musicians and local business owners are struggling to keep pace with the growing costs of living and doing business, it makes no sense to perpetuate this imbalance by dedicating over a billion dollars to another convention center expansion.

In a win for environmental groups and bird lovers, a federal judge affirmed a decision by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reject a petition seeking removal of the golden-cheeked Golden Cheeked warblerarbler from the endangered species list. The uber-conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, in coordination with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, filed the de-listing petition in 2016 based on a controversial study by A&M University that has been criticized by experts as grossly overestimating the warbler’s population.

Central Texas is the only place in the world where this small, shy songbird breeds and raises chicks. It migrates from Mexico each spring to the mature oak-juniper woodlands of Travis, Hays, and surrounding counties in the Texas Hill Country. Originally listed as endangered in 1990, the warbler is a key species in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Permit, which balances habitat protection with development in our fast-growing region.

The warbler is one of the ever-dwindling list of things that make the Central Texas area unique and extraordinary. Its protected habitat includes the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and what would Austin be without that? The rebuffing of this latest attempt to strip protections of a defenseless creature for the sake of profit is a victory worth celebrating.