by Crystal Gottfried
New Braunfels City Officials and architects are finalizing details to plans for renovations to the city’s Civic Center that will turn it into a Convention Center that could double as an evacuation shelter.
While city and chamber officials are making plans to promote their new facility, a $12.3 million expansion and renovation project that will convert the existing 15,000-square-foot civic center into a 50,000-square-foot convention center, one parking lot is nearly finished, and construction on the new facility is expected to begin in about two weeks.
The facility has been in the discussion and planning stages for nearly eight years. Ground-breaking ceremonies may take place in the next several weeks.
New Braunfels is known world-wide for Schlitterbahn water park as well as being a tourist destination for tubing, water sports and German heritage festivals, so targeting the small and medium sized meetings market seems to be a confident next step for the city as well as the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce to make in attracting off-summer-season tourism business.
Chamber President Michael Meek told the Express News last week that since the city has great special events, like Wurstfest, as well as great water recreation attractions, “the missing link for us in tourism was always meeting facilities.”
“We feel we will be very successful,” he said.
As a step in the right direction, the city has already booked the annual conference for the 2008 Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives which is expected to bring about 300 people to New Braunfels.
The City of San Marcos also has plans in the works for next month to begin construction on a hotel and conference center project along Interstate 35, about one mile from the city’s massive outlet shopping mall.
The city’s joint venture calls for Missouri-based hotelier John Q. Hammons to build a 282-room Embassy Suites hotel along with an adjacent 77,000-square-foot conference center. San Marcos will finance up to $20 million for the conference center and Hammons will manage the facility.
New Braunfels will finance its project mostly with hotel-motel taxes, along with some economic development sales taxes and about $700,000 in general fund reserves to pay the balance.
Architect Ken Rehler, a resident of New Braunfels and founder of the award-winning firm of Rehler, Vaughn and Koone Architects began the design for the new convention center. He was killed last year when his experimental gyroplane crashed after take-off at the New Braunfels Airport.
Rehler’s firm also designed the New Braunfels Public Library which was completed in 1999.