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OUR TURN: Expanding Lakeside Pavilion is way to make Marble Falls a destination hub

As Marble Falls leaders pursue several ideas simultaneously to make the city a destination hub to generate more revenue for local coffers, it seems clear one project should be the priority:

Turn Lakeside Pavilion into a true convention center and create an economic identity for the town that promotes both commerce and tourism.

This idea isn’t new. It’s been on the back burner for ages. In fact, the hotel-motel tax occupancy funds commission recently set aside receipts for a future expansion of Lakeside Pavilion.

Other city leaders should follow the commission’s example by prioritizing the transformation of Lakeside Pavilion into a full-fledged convention/visitors/civic center. Marble Falls will continue to lose revenue the longer officials tarry.

For example, a large number of conventions, weddings and meetings come to the Highland Lakes. But they don’t meet in Marble Falls — they go instead to the Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott hotel, which has the space to host such events. If Marble Falls ever hopes to attract such opportunities and not lose that kind of business, it will need a convention center. Right now, the city has no conference facilities that can hold large crowds.

The solution is simple. Enlarge the pavilion by removing the aging tennis courts and the swimming pool on the site. Maybe the tennis courts — which are in bad shape anyway — can be relocated to Johnson Park, the pool to the water park the city has discussed or both to the sports complex when or if it is built. Then, use the newly created space at Lakeside Pavilion to add more breakout rooms instead of relying solely on  the current large meeting hall. In addition, publicize the breathtaking views of Lake Marble Falls as a selling point.

Main Street from downtown can also be extended south to the new facility, thus adding more value for tourists.

Nor does the city have to foot the bill. To avoid a burden on the taxpayer, Marble Falls could enter a partnership with a hotel, which could build and run the convention center. That approach would reduce or eliminate the city’s bond-indebtedness. In return for the land, the city could receive a dividend from the hotel for convention rentals. Even better, the city would also continue to collect hotel-motel occupancy tax funds, too. And, as more groups use the conference center, local restaurants and caterers would be called to provide services there, which means they would see an increase in their private-sector business.

Finding a partner for the city, such as a hotel, to run the center makes perfect sense. The concept — in various forms — is already being used in many other Texas cities, large and small, including Austin, Arlington, Galveston, Grapevine, Lubbock, Rockwall and San Marcos.

This mutual cooperation is a perfect and working example of a public-private partnership. In fact, Marble Falls could even set up a Public Facilities Corp. to oversee the operation. The city could also look into a tax-increment financing district, but a public-private partnership is more desirable — and usually more palatable to the public.

The one thing all the pundits agree on is this: Marble Falls is the economic hub of the Highland Lakes.

And if that’s the case, then why not play to that strength by making Lakeside Pavilion bigger and better, a true convention destination? If people have a reason to come here to meet, then all the other projects on the city’s wish list are likely to follow — the sports complex, the tourism sites and the art venues.

The city’s boards, commissions, the council and the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce should unite behind a single, broad mission to expand, improve and market Lakeside Pavilion.

Once the city has a true convention center, complete with the appropriate amenities, visitors and businesses are sure to follow. Marble Falls needs this worthwhile endeavor to move forward as a destination hub.