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$1.5 Billion Spent On Downtown Entertainment District

Already a Top-20 site for convention business, Houston is making a major investment to move up the list. But is it also taking a gamble?

Discovery Green SB
Brien Straw
Discovery Green


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At the moment, the noise from construction sites may be the official sound of downtown Houston. With a Super Bowl LI deadline, the city is investing heavily on entertainment and leisure.

A.J. Mistretta is the Director of Public Relations for Houston First. They operate the George R. Brown convention center as well as the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Mistretta says $1.5-billion is being spent.

"That's a huge number in this section of downtown. We're spending in Houston First, about $250 million of that to improve the GRB, and to improve the area immediately surrounding the convention center, including what we're calling Avenida, the pedestrian promenade in the front of the building," he says.

The Avenida De Las America's will still leave room for two lanes of automobile traffic in front of the convention center. Four lanes are being converted into a walkway for pedestrians. New restaurants and $2 million in artwork are also included in the renovations.

The primary focus is to create an entertainment and dining district around Discovery Green.

Donna Broughton is in town on business from Atlanta. She thinks providing options are essential.

"You don't want to stay in a hotel, you want to get out and see what the city has to offer. You want to shop, you want to eat, and if there's sporting events going on you want to get out and do that to. So, with it all being centrally located, it's a plus," Broughton says.

In 2015 Houston First booked over 300 conventions that brought more than 600,000 people to town. According to cvent – a convention meetings management company, the city is a Top-20 destination nationally.

With an additional 1,000 hotel rooms in the Marriott Marquis and at least ten new restaurants scheduled to open in downtown before the end of the year, Houston expects to move up in the rankings.

Marriott Marquis.
Brien Straw
Marriott Marquis.

Michael Perez and his family were in town from San Antonio for the Astros game. He thinks Houston has advantages over the famed Riverwalk.

"Y'all actually have a skyline and a downtown. We have the River Walk, yes, but if we had a sports center like this, it would do us some good. Y'all have the best of both worlds. You have everything located downtown and you have the Astros, so, y'all kind of beat us on that a bit," says Perez.

But as Perez also said, people who live in San Antonio don't hang out at the River Walk. So how will Houston's downtown entertainment and dining district fare when there isn't an Astros or Rockets game, or a convention in town?

Mistretta says year-round interest is part of the plan.

"It's not just about those convention attendees. It is about becoming more of a center of activity for locals and for tourists," Mistretta says.

Jeff Cantwell is Senior VP of Development for Landry's restaurants. They will be opening the Italian concept restaurant Grotto in the convention center. He says the downtown development is about more than a Super Bowl or convention.

"From a restaurateur or hotelier's perspective, you're not going to live or die by the Super Bowl. Really the most exciting thing is everything that's happening in totality downtown and what it's going to do to bring, new conventions to town, new visitors to town, more locals back downtown, more residents back downtown. So, that's what makes this location make sense for us," he says.

Cantwell and Landry's aren't the only ones being drawn downtown. Cassandra Ashby is a bartender that lives in East Downtown. She says there's money to be made with or without convention business.

"People who live and work in downtown, all year round, and they still do really well even without big events. It's booming. Everyone's moving to Houston, we're growing constantly. And younger crowds are moving into downtown while the older crowds out into the suburbs," Ashby says.

It's a lot of money, the $1.5 billion investment. It will take a lot of dinners, drinks and hotel stays, to make the investment pay off.

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