Plans for the long troubled Irving Convention Center finally seem to be moving ahead. In a 6-3 decision by the City Council at the end of June, it was decided that the $84 million construction project that would bring an entertainment center, city-owned hotel, and tax-free office building to the Las Colinas site would finally move ahead. The project heralded by construction firm ARK Group will be funded almost exclusively by public funds, garnered through taxes, and incentivized with tax breaks for the developers.
Groundbreaking Comes Seven Years After Plans for the Project Began
Some in Irving have been dreaming of this entertainment center for almost a decade. Billy Bob Barnett, businessman and famed creator of Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s Texas honky tonk restaurant, envisioned the Irving Convention Center as an epicenter for cutting edge multimedia and entertainment, shopping, music, and eating. In its earliest inception, the Irving Convention Center was meant to have five levels, filled to the gills with 14 original restaurants, nightclubs, and shops.
With the support of then mayor Herb Gears and many business minded folks in the Irving community, plans went ahead with the project. The groundbreaking was originally set for Fall 2009, but as would become a reoccuring theme, troubles with funding and the often sudden departure of crucial parties left the project crippled. After a slew of legal battles over public financing for the project, it was finally completed in January of 2011; however, the convention center was only part one of the project. The heart of the entertainment center — the restaurants, the music venues, the shops — remains absent from the space.
Public Funds, Tax Breaks Leave Many in Irving Hesitant
This isn’t the first time the entertainment center has been a step away from getting started, only to have the plug pulled at the last minute. In 2012, it was reported that the $250m project would finally be underway — that is until Standard & Poor’s began dragging its feet over whether or not to grant the project’s investment package status as investment quality. As had been the case for years, interest in the project fell apart.
In reality, S&P’s lack of faith in those behind the Irving Convention Center debacle was really only another drop in the bucket. Many Irving citizens were against putting so many of their tax dollars into an entertainment complex. The project was thought to be so toxic that it is often credited with Mayor Beth Van Duyne’s ousting of former officeholder Herb Gears in 2011. Poised for a rematch with Gears for the seat this year, it’s no real surprise that Van Duyne voted “no” in the June 2014 motion before the City Council. It was a politically savvy move, but ultimately useless, as the City Council’s affirmative vote finally pushes the entertainment center to a 2014 start.