Monday July 3rd, 2006

Three-day Essence Music Festival, transplanted from New Orleans, wraps up at Reliant Stadium; Houston's convention and events calendar strengthened by city's response to Hurricane Katrina...

Relocated this year from New Orleans, the Essence Music Festival has been underway at Reliant Stadium. Due to hurricane damage at the New Orleans Superdome, the festival is temporarily taking up quarters in here in Houston. That's entirely appropriate, according to Jordy Tollett with the Houston Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

"Katrina destroyed the Superdome and a heck of a lot of New Orleans, and unfortunately this event is an annual event, and it got into competition between Atlanta--mainly Atlanta, there were other cities that were vying for it, but--Atlanta and Houston, and I think at the end of the day, you know they felt like Houston really, you know, opened its heart to a quarter million people from Louisiana. We still have more than 100,000 here, so I think at the end of the day they said if we're going to move it someplace, we need to give it to someone that will do a good job, has the right venues--and they love the Reliant Stadium. I just think we put together the right package, and I think we did the right thing. We were doing a humanitarian thing--it wasn't about money. I think they gave us a little credit for that, and I'm just happy they did."

The music began on Saturday, and today is the third and final day of performances.

"We definitely know there're gonna be 200,000 people attend the concerts. There are three nights, which is unusual. The finestAfrican-American entertainers in the country. The economic impact is somewhere between $175 million and $200 million. That is pretty phenomenal. It's not the Superbowl, but it's as good as anything else we've ever done--NBA, Major League Baseball or the World Series. I mean, I think they're gonna have a wonderful time because of the Galleria being the fifth-largest, theater district second-largest, museum district fourth-largest, close to the beach. They have more that they can experience here than, really, they can in New Orleans. As much as we want to see New Orleans get back to the great city it is, we also like this economic boost to our economy."

Tollett says a series of successful events in Houston over the past few months has helped boost Houston's image as a great place for conventions and other events.

"There have been a number of meetings that have by-passed Houston--never even thought of Houston. We've just not been in the limelight. And I gotta tell you, hosting the Superbowl, Major League Baseball, NBA, World Series, the Katrina-Rita situation, the national and international limelight that that Houston has been in for the last 36 months has only changed out image to one of the most positive images in the country. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times from people from all over the world: Houston has a heart. Pre-, they didn't know anything about Houston; post-, friendliest, most fun city they've been in, in a long time, and new city. So our future is the brightest it's ever been. I think we've turned the corner in a very cool way that is going to play a big part in how successful the Convention Bureau is and how well the city does over the next ten years, and I'm very pleased with where we're going."

Started in 1994 by Essence magazine, the festival has grown to be the largest annual African-American event in the country. This year's festival is helping raise funds to help rebuild New Orleans schools.

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