‘Hotel Mania’ for Downtown Houston

As written previously, Downtown Houston is in the beginning stages of a major construction boom, that will continue to ramp up through the course of 2014 and 2015. As the clock ticks closer and closer to Super Bowl LI, to be hosted in the Bayou City, a flood of new projects are racing to get completed before 2017. Though every conceivable type of construction is happening in Downtown, it appears the largest single type is going to be hotels during this high-activity period.

Many Houstonians may be wondering… why the need for so many hotels? Are they all being built just for the Super Bowl?

In reality, Houston is actually playing catch-up. The city’s is now in high demand to host more Conventions, and business leaders from all industries are starting to see the opportunities associated with that demand. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Houston Public Media story…

… the [GHCVB] achieved a hundred percent of its goals in booking domestic meetings, with a direct economic impact of $345 million. Well over a half-million definite rooms nights are booked for upcoming conventions — that’s one yardstick for measuring success. The bureau enjoyed 198 percent of its goals in booking international meetings, with a direct economic impact of $77 million. There were 203 film and commercial projects. Greg Ortale is president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“What it is, is we have a fairly robust database to find opportunities. We’re looking both for groups that have not made a decision on specific years and matching them up with our annual calendar to see if there’s a fit, and then we go and proceed after them.”

Ortale says the ten-year-long “My Houston” campaign has helped solidify Houston’s image.

“Where we got Houston-born — and many living, continuing to live here — celebrities to do endorsements, whether in print or video, about living here. We had well over 40 celebrities, all the way from Bush-41 to ZZ Top.”

That improving image seems to have a direct correlation to rapid growth in the Convention business, but other evidence suggests that it could’ve grown much faster. Studies by Houston First Corporation show that the city lost millions of dollars in potential business last year due to a lack of sufficient hotel room capacity.

But the plan to rectify this seems to be going well so far. Just last Friday, city leaders broke ground on the Marriott Marquis, a 1000-room facility that will be connected to the George R. Brown Convention center, and is set to be the next signature hotel for Houston. With the hotel will come retail and five new restaurants, sure to be a robust addition to Downtown’s retail landscape.

Marriott Marquis is the single largest hotel project, but it will be joined in good company. Other projects in downtown include an Aloft hotel, the 225 room Hotel Alessandra, 325 room J. W. Marriott, 261 room Hyatt Place, and the 215 room Savoy. All told, these projects will add well over 2,200 new hotel rooms to Downtown’s current inventory, and should go a long way to improving Houston’s Convention competitiveness. The increased foot traffic will undoubtedly have an impact on other downtown businesses, such as existing street-level retail. Exciting times ahead for Houston.

(The sleek new design of Hotel Alessandra, expected to open in 2016. Photo credit: Swamplot)

Houston Matters

Last week, I was honored to re-join the folks over at Houston Matters for a particularly deep discussion. We delved into the current developments over Houston’s Non-Discrimination ordinance, the pressures of high-stakes testing for Texas teachers, and transparency accolades for the Texas Comptroller’s office. The segment was hosted by Craig Cohen, and featured myself along with Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle and Russ Capper of the Business Makers radio show.

The show, which is celebrating its 1st anniversary this month, has quickly become a valued news resource for the Bayou City, Greater Houston region, and indeed the state. The young show has made its fair share of news as well, having conducted critical interviews with Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and other influential Texans. I highly encourage you to check it out, and add this program to your daily news fix. Houston Public Media just concluded it’s Spring fundraising campaign last week as well, but it’s certainly not too late to join the cause and support great shows like Houston Matters.