A voter-approved venue tax for developing McLennan County’s Extraco Events Center would help Waco city and school governments step up their sports game, advocates told Waco City Council on Tuesday.

Council members agreed that the plan could have wide community benefits, but they want more details on revenues.

McLennan County commissioners this month called for a May 6 referendum to allow voters to approve a 2 percent hotel-motel occupancy tax and a 5 percent tax on rental cars. The tax plan would fund a 20-year bond for $34.4 million of new construction at the county’s longtime fairgrounds in its first phase, plus a later phase of $6.9 million.

Wes Allison, Extraco Events Center president and CEO, made the pitch to the council Tuesday for why the improvements would benefit the city of Waco and Waco Independent School District — with no impact to local taxpayers.

Allison said the development, including more horse stalls and an 80,000-square-foot expo center behind the coliseum, will mean more statewide events, helping to fill hotels and boosting retail sales. The expo center could host sports tournaments, including basketball, volleyball, table tennis and even bowling, he said.

In addition, the $34.4 million includes $4.5 million to replace aging recreational facilities. The event center’s master plan would move the city-owned Lake Air Little League fields north and rearrange them in a compact pattern with modern restrooms and parking.

WISD’s soccer practice fields and track, now at Paul Tyson Field, also would be moved into the same area as Tyson is razed.

The project also would include landscaping, walkways and lighting that would help make the 60-acre fairground tract more of a recreational asset for the community.

“We want to create a park on the campus,” he said.

Councilman Dillon Meek said he likes the plan but asked if the sports facilities would be available to the public between tournaments.

Allison said use of the track and field would be up to Waco ISD.

Councilman Jim Holmes said he would like more detailed financial projections from the venue tax. Allison estimated $1.5 million to $2 million in revenue in the first year, with an increase each year.

Councilman John Kinnaird asked what happens if the facilities are paid off before the 20-year term. Allison said the funding stream would continue to fund capital improvements at the site, and the tax package could be renewed.

Holmes said he and Mayor Kyle Deaver plan to meet this month with Allison to discuss the plan in detail.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved $761,667 in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds for public improvements for the Franklin Square mixed-use project Shane Turner and Todd Behringer are developing at Franklin Avenue and Seventh Street; and $925,690 for their retail project at Mary Avenue and University Parks Drive.
  • Approved a special permit for Elizabeth and David Corey for a bed-and-breakfast at 500 N. Park Ave. They are building New Orleans-style cottages near their home in the Cameron Park neighborhood.
  • Approved a special permit for Amy Normand at 724 N. 19th St., where she has renovated a Victorian house known as Morrow House.
  • Approved a request to rezone from office to commercial use a tract at 2223 Austin Ave., where a coffee house is planned.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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