City saves up for convention center

HARLINGEN — The city is saving up for the $14.8 million convention center.

Officials are dipping into annual hotel occupancy tax revenues of about $860,000 as they plan to help pay the debt, Finance Director Elvia Treviño said yesterday.

Every year, Treviño said, about $100,000 in hotel occupancy tax revenue goes unspent.

Now, the city’s total hotel occupancy tax fund stands at $502,558, she said.

This year, Treviño said, officials set aside $100,000 to create a fund balance to help pay off the convention center’s debt.

That left an annual fund of $746,000.

During the upcoming fiscal year, the city plans to save another $100,000, Treviño said.

That will leave about $746,000 in the fund.

Tourism is pumping more money into city coffers.

Last year, the city’s hotel occupancy tax generated $1 million in revenue, up from $817,758 in 2011, Treviño said.

As part of a finance plan, the city will use $3.8 million from its hotel occupancy tax fund to help pay off taxable certificates of obligation used to build the convention center.

Over a 20-year period, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board also will pay $9.7 million to help pay off the debt.

Still, the city will continue to spend about $700,000 in hotel occupancy tax dollars to fund efforts aimed at drawing tourists to town.

Yesterday, city commissioners approved three agreements in which hotel occupancy tax revenue will be used to help draw tourism.

Every year, the city earmarks $41,000 to help fund the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, adding $20,000 to rent Casa de Amistad for the event, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the festival brings about 700 birders to the city’s hotels.

“That’s the major draw for the city,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “The majority are from out of town, so they stay at our hotels.”

Commissioners also approved agreements with the Harlingen Performing Arts Theater, which gets $24,000, and Marine Military Academy, which will use $10,000 to maintain the Iwo Jima Monument.

Gonzalez said the city also uses hotel occupancy tax dollars to help fund three city departments.

Every year, the city uses $424,000 in revenues to operate the Harlingen Convention & Visitors Bureau, a three-member department which works to coordinate events focused on building tourism and filling hotel rooms.

The city also uses hotel occupancy tax dollars to help fund the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the money helps pay the auditorium’s operating costs, including staffing, maintenance and utilities.

Another $60,000 is earmarked for the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum.