ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene Events Venue District Board met Monday afternoon to discuss the possibility of renewal of the Events Venue Tax – which was implemented in 2004 with a 20-year lifespan. That tax plan is soon to sunset in June of 2024. They elected to put it on the Ballot of the November county election for voters to decide.
“Many people have contacted us and would like for us to create another hotel occupancy district and get that 2%, and keep the district going for another 20 years,” advised Board President and Taylor County Commissioner Chuck Statler.
If approved, the renewed tax would operate in the same way it has since 2004: The 2% tax on hotels and other lodging stays in the county are split between two pre-approved tourism venues. In this case it’s Frontier Texas and the Taylor County Expo Center. This funding was allocated with the intent of using non-local dollars to draw in more visitors to the county.
“Tourism is one of those things where, when you invest in it, the locals benefit from having more things funded by people that don’t live here and work here,” Frontier Texas’ Executive Director Jeff Salmon explained.
As one of the beneficiaries of this tax, Salmon told KTAB/KRBC he’s seen firsthand the impact that 2% can have. Funds from the Venue Tax make up 65% of Frontier Texas’ budget, as per Salmon, and without it they would have to find other means of covering that gap.
“We would just have to either generate more revenue on sight by having very high ticket prices or trying to have a much larger store,” said Salmon.
Meanwhile, the events venue tax makes up only 10% of the budget at the Taylor County Expo center. Executive Director Rochelle Johnson said that money is well utilized to fund their operations so that they can attract more events and keep entry costs low.
“It’s not necessarily a tax on us citizens that live here in Abilene; it is on visitors… Because we generate so much out of town business, this is a good way for us to get some money back,” Johnson expanded.
The state law that makes this tax possible has very specific language on how it can be used. A press release put out by Grow Abilene and Taylor County Tourism, a local political action committee, states the following:
“This type of tax can only be used to support specific types of tourism venues as stated in Texas law and approved by the Comptroller of the State of Texas. It cannot be used for other general purposes such as street repairs, police etc. (Texas Local Government Code 334 and 335).”
Before the tax can be implemented, there must also be a new construction project for which the city will create a bond. That bond is entirely paid off by funds from the tax, and the remaining funds are split between the beneficiaries.
If approved, an initial $2 million will go to Frontier Texas to be used for their planned expansion, and additions to the grounds. Additional funds would be needed to be raised by Frontier Texas.
Among the additions, Salmon told KTAB/KRBC Frontier Texas plans to close the open-air walkway at the front of the building to create an education center and add an exhibit room to house temporary exhibits in addition to the museum’s permanent attractions. There are also said to be plans for expanded parking and an outdoor sculpture plaza to free up space in the main lobby.
All of this is pending approval by the voters in the county election on November 7, 2023. Salmon and Johnson said they hope voters will understand the benefits of reinvesting tourism dollars into the county.
“This is a responsible way to use tourism visitors, their funds, to increase tourism in our community,” Salmon said.
Johnson added in agreeance, “It’s a real big circle and it’s sometimes hard for people to see that, but the main thing is that we’re not digging into our local citizen’s pocket.”
Follow this link to view the full board meeting from the Events Venue District.