To say 2017 was a momentous year for Houston is not hyperbole. The year was marked with two successful sporting events bookending a historic tragedy. Beginning with a bang on Feb. 5, NRG Stadium in Houston hosted the National Football League’s Super Bowl LI. The Touchdown Houston charitable fund raised more than $4 million for 78 local nonprofits. Super Bowl LI had 172 million viewers and approximately 150,000 out-of-town visitors traveled to Houston for the game. In total, the Greater Houston area took in $347 million in new spending as a direct result of hosting the Super Bowl LI.
Then the hurricane hit. Houston was once again on the world stage with unprecedented damage and fatalities resulting from Hurricane Harvey. Second only to Hurricane Katrina’s highest damage estimates, Harvey caused a staggering $180 billion in damage. At one point 2 feet of rain fell in 24 hours and nearly one-third of Houston was flooded. More than 200,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and at least 82 people died as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Houstonians showed their character and sense of community by helping each other.
“I know Houstonians and citizens from across Texas and the country pitched in and assisted in many ways. I’m grateful for the support,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
As recovery and clean-up efforts began in earnest, things were looking up for Houston. The city’s Major League Baseball team, the Houston Astros, played their way right into the World Series. The Astros completed the series with an exciting game seven win.
The Astro’s World Series win was the first in franchise history—and seemed to reflect the tenacity and triumph of the Houston meetings and events industry.
“Visit Houston has been fortunate to have the support of the meetings industry,” says Mike Waterman, president of Visit Houston. “To date, no large-scale conventions have been canceled.”
With 2.2 million residents, Houston is the nation’s fourth-largest city and the most populous city in Texas.
Houston was founded in 1836 by brothers Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, and aptly named after the larger-than-life Texas statesman Sam Houston.
While one of the most popular nicknames of Houston is Space City, Houston has certainly earned the nickname The Big Heart. At the center of this heart is the vibrant Avenida Houston campus. The Avenida Houston entertainment district includes Discovery Green’s 12-acre park, a convention center, two convention headquarter hotels and public art installations, as well as many dining and retail options for guests.
Despite a tumultuous few weeks following Hurricane Harvey, the convention center as well as the Houston meetings and events industry stood up to the test. “The George R. Brown Convention Center [GRB], which acted as a shelter through Harvey, returned to business, and in September 2017 hosted the Texas Society of Association Executives,” says Waterman. The convention center sustained virtually no damage and was able to reopen as soon as displaced Houstonians returned home or found alternative accommodations.
As a part of a master plan for the Avenida Houston campus, the GRB wrapped up a multimillion dollar renovation in December 2016, just ahead of Super Bowl LI. Upgrades to the convention center included art installations, new retail and new restaurant offerings including Kulture, Bud’s BBQ, The Grotto, McAlister’s Deli and Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen. Avenida de las Americas, the street between the convention center and Discovery Green, was transformed from eight lanes down to two lanes, creating a pedestrian plaza. The roadway can now be closed for private events as well as long-standing favorites like Party on the Plaza, which is a free concert open to the public.
At 1.2 million usable square feet, the convention center is one of the largest in the nation. The GRB features 88 meeting rooms, seven exhibit halls, a 31,590-square-foot grand ballroom, four furnished conference rooms, 90,000 square feet of flexible space, a theater with fixed seating for 3,600 people, movable telescopic seating for 7,000 and six balconies overlooking Discovery Green. At 547,730 contiguous square feet, the Level 1 exhibit hall is the largest space in the facility. All of this adds up to an abundance of event space and countless ways for event planners to use it.
From preplanning to load out, each event at the GRB is assigned to one of the on-site convention service managers. These managers serve as a liaison with in-house and preferred providers, in addition to assisting event planners. A FedEx Office Print & Ship Center is located on Level 2 for last-minute supplies or services. The GRB has exclusive partnerships with Staging Solutions for audio-visual services and Levy Convention Centers for catering.
The George R. Brown Convention Center is adjacent to both the Hilton AmericasHouston and the Marriott Marquis Houston. Both hotels can be accessed via covered walkways linked to the convention center. Additionally, the Avenida Houston campus is situated between the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets, and Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. More than 20 restaurants and numerous retail shops can be found in the immediate walkable area. A METRORail station is located at the east end of the convention center, and its routes extend for 24 miles to connect midtown, the Museum District, Moody Park and more. Three adjacent parking garages provide more than 3,900 parking spaces for attendees who drive in for events.
One key component for the Avenida Houston development was more guest rooms within the campus.
The December 2016 opening of the 960- guest room Marriott Marquis nearly doubled the room count immediately adjacent to the convention center. The 29-story hotel features 40 suites, one concierge level, the M Club Lounge and a total of more than 153,700 square feet of event space.
The Marriott Marquis Houston, which opened Dec. 26, 2016, was designed to be a catalyst for the Houston Convention Bureau’s efforts to bring additional convention business into Houston.
As such, it commands a premier location in the heart of the city. It is across from Minute Maid Ballpark and down the street from the Toyota Center, Houston’s main concert venue, and a wide variety of restaurants and entertainment venues.
“We truly believe our staff are experts in serving the group meeting planner and group customer,” says Dave Swift, director of sales and marketing for Marriott Marquis Houston. “In the short year we have been open, we have played host to a Super Bowl, a World Series, Maritz Travel and Experient’s E4 annual meeting, Marriott’s Association Masters event and Texas Society of Association Executives annual meeting.”
The Marriott Marquis Houston event space offers 52 meeting rooms, 38 breakout rooms, an outdoor event pavilion, two event lawns and the 39,000-square-foot Texas Ballroom, one of the largest ballrooms in the city. At capacity, the Texas Ballroom can accommodate up to 4,400 people.
The hotel is a member of Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network, a collection of 100 of the company’s largest convention and resort properties assembled to provide consistent high-quality meeting experiences for both planners and attendees.
There are six dining outlets within the AAA Four Diamond Marriott Marquis Houston.
Texas T is a quick-service café and coffee house serving Starbucks coffee and tea, locallysourced baked goods and quick meals. Biggio’s is an upscale sports bar with wood paneling and two 30-foot-tall media screens that serves American food made with fresh Texas ingredients, local beer and hand-crafted cocktails.
Cueva is a wine bar nestled in the Lobby Lounge of the hotel. Cueva features more than 200 bottles of wine, 12 wines on-tap and complimentary Mediterranean tapas and small plates.
Hungry guests enjoying the pool and lazy river can fill up at High Dive. The rooftop bar features American fare, and refreshing beer and cocktails.
The Walker Street Kitchen offers guests Gulf Coast-inspired food prepared with fresh ingredients from local farms.
For guests craving a taste of Mexico, Xochi by Hugo Ortega offers traditional Oaxacan cuisine with a modern twist in a casual environment.
Additional property amenities include the 24-hour Marquis Fitness Center and the sixthfloor rooftop heated Texas-shaped lazy river, infinity pool and whirlpool. The 5,000-squarefoot PURE Spa offers massage, body therapies, facials and manicures, as well as separate men’s and women’s lounges.
Houston’s lush Discovery Green is directly out the lobby doors of the hotel. A climate-controlled sky bridge connects the hotel to the convention center. George Bush Intercontinental Airport is about 20 miles away, a light rail station is across the street, and the Avenida North and Central parking garages are within a short walk of the hotel.
The Hilton Americas-Houston features 1,200 guest rooms, including 36 suites. The 24-story property also offers 30 versatile meeting rooms covering more than 90,000 square feet of event space.
The hotel’s Ballroom of the Americas is 25,895 square feet and can seat more than 2,000 guests. The Lanier Grand Ballroom is approximately 40,000 square feet and both ballrooms are adjacent to 10,715 square feet of pre-function space that can accommodate event registrations, trade shows and exhibits.
In total, the Hilton Americas-Houston event space can support groups from 100 people up to nearly 4,000 guests. And, with three on-site certified meeting planners, groups will never be on their own.
“Designed by meeting planners for meeting planners, the AAA Four Diamond-rated Hilton Americas-Houston provides 91,500 square feet of meeting space, all contained on three levels and accessible via escalators, stairs and dedicated meeting room elevators. Event attendees will enjoy views of the city through meeting space windows overlooking the 12-acre urban park, Discovery Green, and the Avenida Houston entertainment district,” says Jacques D’Rovencourt, general manager of the Hilton Americas-Houston.
The property offers four on-site dining options for guests who prefer to stay on the property.
The convenient Starbucks location in the hotel offers a full menu and is open daily.
The Lobby Bar is an ideal spot to meet colleagues for conversation or a casual meeting.
For upscale casual dining, guests may choose the 1600 Bar + Grille, featuring locally sourced seasonal produce, Gulf seafood and certified Angus beef.
For traditional Tex-Mex, Pappasito’s Cantina is located on the ground floor of the hotel.
Eligible guests also can take advantage of the R24 Executive Rooftop Lounge, which offers complimentary continental breakfasts, along with hot and cold snacks every evening.
“With 1,200 guest rooms, Hilton AmericasHouston is the city’s largest hotel,” says D’Rovencourt, “and provides exemplary service, unrivaled facilities and attention to detail for the most remarkable events.”
Many of the hotel amenities can be found in the 23rd floor Skyline Spa & Health Club. The spa features four treatment rooms and offers massages, body wraps, and hair and nail salon services. The health club provides dry saunas, steam rooms, an oversized whirlpool and a heated indoor pool with views of the city skyline, as well as a fully equipped fitness center.
The hotel also offers a business center, concierge desk and on-site convenience store.
Two air-conditioned sky bridges connect the hotel to the GRB. The Avenida South parking garage is a short walk from the property and the William P. Hobby Airport is only 12 miles away.
Spending time in Houston, one can feel the excitement for the year ahead. Houston appears to have bounced back from a roller coaster year with gusto.
“2018 is on pace to be a record year for our group segment. We are pacing ahead of last year, and we even had a Super Bowl in our 2017 numbers,” says Waterman.
Mayor Turner echoes this positive sentiment, saying, “Houston’s energetic spirit has the city on the road to recovery and I appreciate every organization for having the confidence in allowing us to host so many conferences since Harvey. They bring a sense of vitality and vibrancy to our walkable downtown community.”