Featured Site Visit: Houston’s Expanding Convention District

Following is our continuing updates on ConventionSouth site visits from Marcia Bradford.

Downtown Houston is buzzing with activity, thanks to recent changes–added green space, an expanded mass transit system, reimagined historic buildings and new housing options–which have been in the works for several years. Like other large cities, Houston is also benefitting from the trend toward urban living.

George R. Brown Convention Center
George R. Brown Convention Center

But Houston is just getting started on major transformations, according to John Soltis, senior vice president of sales at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (aka Visit Houston). Acknowledging that the city is preparing for two major events–the
2016 NCAA Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl–Soltis asserted that Houston had already begun the process of making a $1.5 billion investment in the downtown area prior to landing the two premier events. This includes extensive renovations at the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB) and the addition of a second flagship hotel connected to the convention center — the Marriott Marquis Houston.

“Getting the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four here put a deadline on several projects now underway, but it was the group demand that led us to add to our product downtown,” he said.

He explained that the development of Discovery Green in 2008 provided an essential component needed to create a more vibrant downtown. The 12-acre park includes a pond, two performance stages and a restaurant.

It also offers a convenient place for convention participants to exercise, relax between meetings or even hold small breakout sessions. For Marie Hoke, an architect with Team Hoke Architecture & Consulting, Discovery Green offered an opportunity to reorient the building so that it takes advantage of the view and encourages interaction.

“The building had a long facade that was focused inward on the center,” she explained. “We wanted to allow activities at the center to spill into the street and allow people attending conventions to easily connect with the activities in the park.”

The GRB is now connected by two indoor skybridges to the Four-Diamond Hilton Americas Houston, a 1,200-room property with 92,000 square feet of meeting space, restaurants, a spa and health club. By the end of 2015, the venue will include the largest Starbuck’s in Texas, which will be among the first in the chain to feature Starbucks Reserve single-origin coffee beans and offer beer and wine. Additionally, the hotel’s lobby and lobby bar are undergoing renovations.

Now under construction, a 1,000-room Marriott Marquis, scheduled to open in September 2016, will also be connected to the GRB via skybridge. According to Jay Marsella, director of sales and marketing for the property, there will be 100,000 square feet of meeting space, including Houston’s largest ballroom, a 39,000-square-foot space with windows overlooking Discovery Green. A full service spa and fitness center, a two-story sports bar, restaurants and pools are among the amenities.

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