By Ralph Bivins
HOUSTON – A major expansion to Houston’s downtown convention center district calls for the construction of three new hotels, a new wing to the George R. Brown Convention Center and other new development, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
Houston First, an organization supported hotel tax and tourism revenue, is promoting the plan. Houston First could support the hotel developers with financing and land purchases, the newspaper said.
The leaders of Houston and Harris County have operated with a bifurcated approach to the convention industry in Houston. Houston has two convention centers. The 700,000-square-foot Reliant Center is located next to the Astrodome and the 1.2 million square foot George R. Brown Convention Center is located in downtown Houston, over five miles away.
Considered as single stand-alone complexes, Houston’s convention facilities have been deemed too small to handle many large conventions. A satisfactory rationale for spending millions for dual, overlapping convention facilities has not been fully articulated by elected officials. Building one large convention center, instead of two smaller inadequate ones, may have been wiser public policy.
A shortage of convention hotels rooms has been another hurdle for the city’s convention business. The Hilton Americas is the biggest part of the downtown hotel inventory and a smaller Embassy Suites opened nearby in 2011. But Houston lags behind the convention arsenal of cities like San Antonio, which has more downtown hotel rooms and a thriving convention industry. Austin is moving forward with plans for downtown hotel development also.
Ultimately, Houston’s image problems may prevent it from stepping up to the top tier of convention cities. However, Houston First, has strong leadership in place: Ric Campo, who leads Camden Property Trust, one the nation’s largest apartment REITs, serves as chair of Houston First.
Ralph Bivins, is founding editor of RealtyNewsReport.com, and a former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.