Prevue July-August 2017 - 59
A convention district revival offers a plethora of new downtown
[ON LOCATION] JESSIE FETTERLING
ouston is full of surprises. It has one of the most culturally
diverse populations in the US and some of the South's
best dumplings located in an unassuming strip mall. Its
Houston Museum of Natural Science-available for
private events-houses an impressive permanent paleontology
exhibit with massive dinosaur skeletons on display. While Houston
has long been known for its sprawling metropolitan area, it's now
creating synergy between business and local immersion in the
downtown convention district.
Massive development happened just in time for the city's
international debut as host to the Super Bowl this past February.
The $175 million renovation of the George R. Brown Convention
Center created a Super Bowl campus that included an indoor NFL
interactive theme park and outdoor spaces with live entertainment.
The key to this interconnectivity was the redesign of the Avenida
de las Americas, which narrowed the road from eight lanes to
three, creating a 97,000-sf pedestrian promenade in front of the
convention center that fits in well with the existing Discovery Green
Park across the street.
The new campus-like model and infrastructure, and perks like
the addition of five new restaurants that provide much more than
the typical convention center fare, have given the city a 34 percent
increase in group bookings in the last two years, according to Mike
Waterman, president of Visit Houston. "It's Houston's time," he
says. "San Antonio, Austin and Dallas have had their time, but the
days of being humble and quiet about Houston are over. We have
an amazing convention campus unlike any other in Texas, and our
bookings reflect the fact that people are interested in what we have
to offer like never before."
More than 3,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the
convention center, including the connected 1,200-room Hilton
Americas-Houston. Our host hotel was also the newest player
in town (with the added convenience of being directly connected
to the convention center): the 1,000-room Marriott Marquis
Houston, designed to feel like a resort in an urban core. With six
restaurants and bars and a Texas-shaped rooftop lazy river,
it certainly offers a more buttoned-down convention hotel
option for groups.
The 484-room Four Seasons Hotel Houston also recently
amped up the convention district experience with a multimillion-dollar
renovation. "We wanted to create Houston's living room, a gathering
spot for the community that's not intimidating and that people can
enjoy," says Tom Segesta, general manager at the property.
Locals store personal bottles of bourbon in their own bourbon
lockers here. Groups can get in on the action with on-site tastings
from the property's bourbon expert. Topgolf Swing Suites offer
another local touchpoint via digital golf simulators and customized
lessons that allow attendees to practice their swings indoors.
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