BELTON – Hotel managers in Bell County can breathe a little easier for now.
The Bell County Expo Center's efforts to fund a proposed $15 million expansion project by increasing the hotel occupancy tax have been postponed, said Tim Stephens, executive director of the Expo Center.
"We've decided to table this proposal for now to look at concerns that have been raised in the community," he said. "However, this doesn't diminish the need for the project."
The proposed project includes 30,000 square feet of additional recreation space for an equestrian arena, additional parking and an RV park.
In order to fund the project, the Expo Center's board of directors presented the idea of a countywide, 1- to 3-percentage-point increase in the hotel tax.
Temple, Belton and Killeen currently have a 13 percent hotel tax. Seven percent of that tax goes to the cities and 6 percent goes to the state.
Stephens said while they received overwhelming support from members of the community for the project, various concerns were raised regarding the funding.
"Some were concerned with increasing the tax by three percent, others questioned the total amount we estimated the project at, so we will look closely at those numbers," he said.
Whether funding should come from the hotel tax for RV hook-ups was also an issue.
"A lot of people come to the convention center and have RV's, so we were looking at this addition as an amenity to the building," he said, adding that they also want to become a part of the RV Rally business, which can bring thousands of tourists into the area who eat in local restaurants, shop in local stores and tour local sites.
"We're a public entity, so we'll continue to look at public funding," Stephens said, adding that the board of directors wanted to keep the tax burden off the local citizens and thought this was a way of achieving this.
If a hotel tax increase is out of the question, he said a bond election or county funding could be alternative possibilities.
A recent news release issued by the Bell County Expo Center stated that the Commissioners Court and the Expo Center's board of directors intend to conduct an economic impact assessment of the proposed expansion and on the effect of the proposed hotel tax increase.
Recently, a study by the Texas Cooperative Extension-Texas A&M University and Oklahoma State University verified the Expo Center generates more than $12.6 million annually to the economies of Bell County, the news release stated.
In addition, Stephens said the Expo Center is booked 90 percent of the time. Last year, he said 425,000 people came through the Expo Center and 282 single events were held there.
"We're still very optimistic about the project and will continue trying to build on the support we already have," he said. "There is no question we're going to continue to promote this project and move forward as quickly as possible."
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