By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Visitors to Bell County may have to take a little bit more out of their pockets in the future to pay for a night's stay.
Representatives from the Bell County Expo Center presented a project overview to the Killeen City Council Tuesday afternoon for a $15 million addition that would provide 30,000 square feet of additional recreation space for an equestrian arena, an RV park and additional parking spaces.
Expo Center representatives are hoping to pay for the addition in such a way that taxpayers are not bogged down with the additional costs. In order to accomplish that, they are proposing a 1 to 3 percent increase in the hotel/motel tax.
Temple, Belton and Killeen have a 13 percent hotel tax. Seven percent of that tax goes to the cities and 6 percent goes to the state. If the state should approve a 3 percent tax increase, the Expo Center's fund would receive the increased tax revenue.
In other nearby cities that have made similar improvements to tourist facilities, Salado has the lowest hotel tax rate at 10 percent while Austin, Abilene and Fort Worth are at 15 percent. Waco and Georgetown are at 13 percent.
The tax increase proposal will be sent to the state Legislature, not the cities, for approval, but Bell County Commissioner John Fisher said he wanted to gauge the reaction from the cities and get their input since the proposal will be sent to the floor on their behalf.
"The commissioners' court came to us to see if we could afford this," Fisher said. "It's difficult to come up with $15 million worth of project funds. We don't want to straddle additional taxes on property for this. We're not asking for a vote, we're just asking if there is opposition."
Expo Center Executive Director Tim Stephens said the addition is badly needed since they are already using 100 percent of the current facilities.
"Many shows require multiple arenas," Stephens said. "We have exposition arenas, but that's not enough to accommodate for the shows we'd like to get. Multiple arenas are a key part of getting our shows to the next level."
Stephens said the current facility has excelled because of its proximity to several metro areas Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
"The key component to our success is our location," he said. "We just don't have the facilities right now. Larger events equal larger economic impact."
Mitchell Jacobs, president of the Expo Center's board, said the addition will be a very positive influence on the surrounding environment.
"When you look at Killeen and the explosion of hotels and motels, this is one thing where the money going in it goes directly to quality of life," Jacobs said. "What's good for the Expo Center is good for the cities of Killeen, Belton and Temple."
Jacobs said the current facility, which was built in 1987, will be paid off this year, and they are looking at a similar timeline for the proposed expansion project.
Several city councilmen said they still need to look at all the information available, but so far, they generally like what they see.
"Basically, I'm in favor of it," Councilman Larry Cole said. "I am concerned about the competition with the general public and the independent investors at the RV Park. I don't have any problem with the county implementing the tax as long as it will not interfere with our occupancy rates."
Councilman Dick Young said the expansion is needed.
"They need the expansion. I was a little concerned about the 300 RV spots," Young said. "That could be some lost hotel/motel revenue that the city may lose but the county may get.
"I still need to look at the data, but I think it looks like a viable project. I think between the cities and the county, we'll be able to come up with something."
In other workshop items, Community Development Director Leslie Hinkle presented the council with the first steps the staff is recommending regarding the Downtown Action Agenda for the downtown revitalization project.
The city staff is recommending the formalization of the processing committee that will be handling the planning and implementation and accepting the plan as the city's own.
City Manager Connie Green said a new position will be formed to aid Hinkle with the specific task of coordinating the downtown redevelopment project.
The City Council is expected to adopt the action agenda in its next meeting on Feb. 13.
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or 501-7568