Planners Also Win Big on Super Bowl LI Development
Houston scored. It triumphed in hosting the meeting of the year—Super Bowl LI—when 1.3 million visitors poured into the city. Now, all that preparation, new construction and added polish is ready to go for meeting and conference planners.
Suite at Four Seasons Houston
Houston is looking ahead, but it’s impossible not to look back at the NFL championship game and 10-day Super Bowl Live extravaganza.
“Our city could not have looked or performed better,” says Mike Waterman, president of Visit Houston.
Roughly 1 million people visited Avenida Houston, the brandnew entertainment, dining, arts and shopping district. Planners are reaping the rewards of the $1.5 billion transformation along Avenida de las Americas between George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC) and Discovery Green, a sprawling park and the site of Super Bowl Live. Landscaped pedestrian promenades lead from the GRBCC, the adjacent Hilton Americas- Houston and the new Marriott Marquis Houston to surrounding attractions, including restaurants, night spots and sports venues.
George R. Brown Convention Center
Houston invested $175 million to expand and update GRBCC. Now 1,600 feet long, GRBCC welcomes delegates with the Wings over Water kinetic sculpture, the largest in the world, waving above five rows of dancing fountains. Inside, just beyond a flock of 200 silvery birds in the Soaring in the Clouds mobile, seven convention halls interconnect with a 95,000-square-foot concourse running the length of the ground floor.
Bar at Hilton Americas–Houston
The center is now LEED certified, with breezy balconies overlooking Discovery Green. It contains 1.8 million sq. ft. of expo and meeting space, including 88 meeting rooms and a 31,590-square-foot grand ballroom.
Live Music, Party and Event Venues
Xochi restaurant, Houston
NFL players, fans and celebrities spread across the city for more than a week to frequent nightclubs, free outdoor events and fund-raising galas. They stopped by swanky venues, including the 7,000-square-foot Proof Rooftop Lounge and the industrial-chic Hughes Manor, where corporate events can be held for 50 to 600 people in blooming gardens or indoors.
Washington Avenue Arts District saw plenty of action. Massive parties were held at Silver Street Studios, while Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift held forth at the traveling pop-up Club Nomadic, a temporary, three-story, 62,500-square-foot party pad. Fergie and DJ Khaled wowed the crowds with ESPN-sponsored performances at a warehouseturned- club.
Guest room at JW Marriott Houston Downtown
Planners can choose from these and other postmeeting venues around town and in Houston’s museum neighborhood, which has 19 cultural institutions located within a few blocks. Most are available for group events. In the heart of the district, 445- acre Hermann Park has been enhanced with the $30 million Centennial Gardens and pavilion, both available for gatherings of up to 200 people.
The soaring Grand Hall in The Health Museum is just a few blocks away. It’s popular with the health care industry and adjacent to the world-renowned Texas Medical Center. The venue accommodates 350 people for receptions and 175 for banquets. It encompasses a 4-D theater and several classrooms.
Guest room at Sam Houston Hotel
Wortham Theater Center holds theater-style presentations in two theaters: George Brown Theater, with 2,405 seats, and Lillie and Roy Cullen Theater, with 1,100 seats. The Houston Ballet and Grand Opera performances, Bayou City Jazz Series, lectures and private events are hosted there.
Two blocks away, fresh from a $46.5 million renovation, Alley Theater opens several meeting and function rooms and vast lobbies to groups, while maintaining a busy calendar of musical and drama performances. Ayva Center caters to 50 to 2,200 guests in a variety of flexible banquet, concert and party spaces. It was also the site of Lil Wayne & Celebrity Friends’ Undisputed Super Bowl Party.
Houston’s Hotel Boom
Brasserie du Parc
The Houston hotel scene is thriving.
“We logged a record of 732,967 room nights booked in 2015, when we first introduced Avenida Houston, and broke the record in 2016 with 765,401 room nights,” Waterman says. “Now that we can actually show off this incredible campus—complete with two headquarters hotels, Discovery Park, and dozens of restaurants and entertainment options––our bookings are up 24 percent for 2017 and 48 percent for 2018. I couldn’t be more bullish on Houston’s trajectory.”
Marriott Marquis Houston opened in November, adding 1,000 rooms to the mix. The hotel is already famous for its Texas-shaped lazy river, along with High Dive bar, an infinity pool and event lawns, all on the rooftop overlooking Discovery Green. For large organizations, the hotel can be an all-in-one headquarters, with six dining options, a skybridge to GRBCC and the city’s largest ballroom. Shops, restaurants and watering holes are onsite or within steps, including mega sports bar Biggio’s and celeb chef-created Xochi, which offers private dining rooms and views of the park.
The 1,200-room Hilton Americas–Houston also has indoor connections to GRBCC. The hotel was the anchor property for a recent Campus Market Expo (CAMEX).
“For this, our third CAMEX in Houston, we took over the GRBCC with 2,000-plus attendees and 650 exhibitors, and bought out the Club Level of Minute Maid Park for our 800-person opening reception,” says Jodie Wilmot, director of meetings for CAMEX. “The Houston Downtown Aquarium was the site of our reception for 700. They have a white tiger, a mini amusement park, networking space, and multiple food and drinks setups. We hired a live band and everyone had a great time. We’re coming back again this fall.”
Also opened in 2016, in one of the city’s architectural gems, JW Marriott Houston Downtown on Main Street has 323 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. And right on Discovery Green, the 404-room Four Seasons Hotel Houston got a multimillion-dollar face lift, gaining a glamorous new lobby bar, Bayou & Bottle. Specializing in whiskeys, the bar is home to a jazzy new interactive golf game, Topgolf Swing Suite.
The Grove eatery
A recent $30 million renovation throughout AAA Four Diamond Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria added an attractive new reception and prefunction lobby. It complements 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and an exclusive TableOne dining experience for 10, attended to by the executive chef, within Ara restaurant.
Opened in 2016 just down the street from GRBCC were the dual-branded Hampton Inn Houston Downtown and Homewood Suites by Hilton Houston Downtown, with 300 guest rooms and 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space under one roof. Nearby, the new SpringHill Suites Houston Downtown/Convention Center exudes architectural beauty and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The luxury-level Hotel Alessandra opens in August. The sleek 20-story tower with 223 guest rooms is a Texas-based Valencia Group property. It will offer 6,000 sq. ft. of ballroom and meeting space, a restaurant and bar, and an event deck.
New Dining Destinations
In and near GRBCC are assorted new cafes and restaurants, including Bud’s Pitmaster BBQ and the hip, warehouse-style Grotto Downtown. Also, Brasserie du Parc serves classic bistro fare on its expansive main floor and upper terrace above Discovery Green; the walk-up creperie is perfect for conventioneers taking their breaks on the park benches. The Grove, another new eatery and bar at Discovery Green, accommodates 240 in private dining rooms and on a deck with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape.
Meeting room at Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria
The boutique-style Sam Houston Hotel opened The Pearl, a trendy seafood joint, just in time for the Super Bowl. It’s housed in an updated, century-old historic brick building. Also available at the hotel are two intimate meeting rooms and a covered rooftop veranda seating 175. On a more casual note, Saint Arnold Brewing Company offers a clubby spot for a fun evening. It caters to up to 300 brew lovers in the Beer Hall and the Investors Pub.
From Houston, you could head north to The Woodlands (see sidebar), with 14 hotels and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, according to The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau—or perhaps head southeast to Galveston.
The Woodlands Enhances Its Allure
The Woodlands is fresh off a round of hotel development, offering new options for meeting planners.
“It’s an added bonus,” says Alie Broussard, convention development manager at The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Two hotels enhanced the area’s meeting options last year. The Westin at the Woodlands added 302 guest rooms and 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to the master-planned community, 28 miles north of Houston. Embassy Suites by Hilton The Woodlands chipped in 205 guest rooms and enough flexible meeting space to accommodate 150 people.
The city’s prime magnets for meetings remain The Woodlands Waterway Marriott & Convention Center (pictured) and The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center. On the smaller side, The Woodlands Country Club, which hosts corporate meetings and events, completed a major renovation in 2016.
All told, The Woodlands has more than 2,200 guest rooms and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
The number of visitors to The Woodlands topped 1 million in 2016, a tenfold pop over 2007, when it started tracking the numbers.
The Woodlands also has 175 stores and dozens of restaurants. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion offers an outdoor venue for the performing arts. For outdoors lovers, the community has 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, with the George Mitchell Nature Preserve injecting the most concentrated dose of the natural world.
Meet at the Beach in Galveston
Just an hour from Houston, Galveston Island is all about sun, sand and fun on the 1,130-foot Pleasure Pier. Both business and beaches are on the agenda on this narrow needle of land surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico.
Networking mixes with Texas history at the new Bryan Museum, home of one of the world’s largest collections of Western artifacts, from firearms to spurs and silver saddles. Opened in mid-2015 in an elaborate Renaissance Revival-style building, the museum hosts up to 250 in the gleaming green-glass conservatory and smaller gatherings in the conference room.
At the 418-room Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center (pictured), attendees explore lush gardens and rainforest after convening in 103,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, which incorporates a 60,000-square-foot expo hall and a ballroom with views of Offatts Bayou.
The largest beachfront property, the AAA Four Diamond- rated, 700-room San Luis Resort Spa & Conference Center, overlooks the seawall and the harbor, with 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting facilities and 10 restaurants. Onsite, the 140,000-square-foot convention center has a column-free expo hall, a grand ballroom and plenty of prefunction venues.
The site of grand, oceanfront hotels since 1829, today’s boutique-style, 119-room Tremont House, a Wyndham Grand Hotel—topped by a rooftop bar with harbor views—is just the spot for the upcoming Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society conference in June. In general, its customizable event space is ideal for a variety of meetings and special events.
A sister property, the 224-room Hotel Galvez & Spa, has a saltwater pool, a swim-up bar and 24,672 sq. ft. of meeting space. That includes nine indoor and two outdoor choices for meetings. The largest is the 4,550-square-foot Music Hall, which offers seating for 400.
Opening in a new location adjacent to Spaceport Houston in Galveston, Lone Star Flight Museum and Texas Aviation Hall of Fame will soon accommodate up to 1,500 at receptions amid vintage bombers, biplanes, a B-17 Flying Fortress and other aeronautical superstars. You’ll learn about the hall of famers, including aviator and pioneer Howard Hughes; actor, singer and World War II pilot Gene Autry; and the Women Air Force Service Pilots.
The Texas Seaport Museum also features the 1877 tall ship Elissa and nearby pier for social functions.
Also popular for groups are guided walks through the multihued, palm-fringed, 50-block Victorian district, which is anchored by the ornate 1892 Bishop’s Palace.
Major Meeting Venues
Hotel Galvez & Spa
Historic 224-room hotel overlooking Gulf Coast and Houston; AAA Four Diamond-rated; saline pool; swim-up bar; 10,000-square-foot day spa; fitness center; restaurant; nine indoor and two outdoor meeting spaces include 4,550-square-foot Music Hall, with seating for 400, a 2,501-square-foot ballroom, a 2,624-square-foot double parlor, a 2,500- square-foot veranda and nine meeting rooms.
Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center
Beachside resort; 103,000 sq. ft. of meeting and expo space; 15,180-square-foot ballroom, 9,100-square-foot ballroom and 60,000-square-foot expo hall; business center; living rainforest; aquarium; 3-D theater; golf course; pool with swim-up bar; one-half mile from Scholes International Airport.
San Luis Resort Spa & Conference Center
Beachfront hotel on 32 acres; AAA Four Diamond rated; 10 restaurants; 700 guest rooms and suites; 200,000-square-foot Galveston Island Conference Center; additional 140,000 sq. ft. of IACC-accredited meeting space; pool features 45-foot waterslide, swim-up bar, private cabanas.
Courtyard Houston Downtown/ Convention Center
Built in 1921 as Humble Oil Building; 191 guest rooms; 1,281 sq. ft. of meeting space; free Wi-Fi; fitness center; pool; short walk to convention center.
Four Seasons Hotel Houston
Convenient to downtown cultural attractions; 468 guest rooms and 115 suites; 16,522 sq. ft. of meeting space; fourth-floor resort-style pool; spa.
George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center
Recent $275 million renovation; LEED certified; 1.8 million sq. ft. of exhibition and meeting space includes 88 meeting rooms, four conference rooms and 31,590-square-foot grand ballroom; largest space is 639,000 sq. ft.
Interactive outdoor museum located in Sam Houston Park; 10 historic buildings; Museum Gallery accommodates 200 reception-style; Connally Plaza seats 250; tenting optional; catering available.
Connected to George R. Brown Convention Center; 1,200 guest rooms; spa and fitness center with city skyline views; Olympic-size pool; business center; 91,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; 40,000-square-foot ballroom; 27 meeting rooms; three boardrooms.
Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake
All 242 guest rooms have a water view; NASA Space Center is nearby; 15,792 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center; restaurant.
Hyatt Regency Houston
AAA Four Diamond-rated; 955 guest rooms; 71,300 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 28,000-square-foot ballroom; connected to shops and restaurants; four dining options include 34th-floor Spindeltop revolving rooftop restaurant; pool; fitness center.
JW Marriott Houston Downtown
Set in historic Samuel F. Carter skyscraper; 328 guest rooms; 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; nine event rooms; linked to popular attractions and downtown areas by public transit.
Lancaster Hotel Houston
Luxurious hotel first opened in 1926; 93 guest rooms; 1,250 sq. ft. of space; meeting room accommodates up to 20; located in the Theater District; extensive renovation in 2013; The Bistro at The Lancaster reopened after a complete renovation.
Omni Houston Hotel
In heart of city cultural centers; 378 guest rooms; 18 meeting rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of function space; new 10,000-square-foot ballroom; bar and grill, nightclub; two pools; full-service spa, fitness center.
Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria
Newly renovated guest rooms and meeting spaces; 485 guest rooms and 13 suites; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 23 meeting and breakout rooms; ballroom can accommodate 1,000 guests; fitness center; business center; Ara restaurant.
Sam Houston Hotel
Listed on National Register of Historic Places; 100 guest rooms; 17 Restaurant; bar; three meeting spaces; upper-floor veranda can accommodate 175; largest meeting room is 3,100 sq. ft.
The St. Regis Houston
200 guest rooms and 32 suites; 10,387 sq. ft. of meeting space; largest space is 4,650 sq. ft.; near The Galleria shops and restaurants; four dining options; pool; spa; fitness center.
Hyatt Centric The Woodlands
Luxury boutique hotel; 70 guest rooms and suites; chic second-floor bar; grand staircase; in-room massages and spa services; infinity pool; fitness center; four meeting rooms; largest space is 2,290 sq. ft.
The Westin at The Woodlands
Opened in April 2016; 302 guest rooms; more than 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting and prefunction space; pool; fitness studio; business center; maximum group size is 250; 150-seat waterfront restaurant; lobby bar; pool deck with bar.
The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center
Recent $60 million expansion and renovation; 406 guest rooms; five pools; men’s and women’s spas; two golf courses; 21 tennis courts; fitness center; two business centers; 60,000-square-foot IACC-certified conference center includes 33 meeting rooms; 13,430-square-foot ballroom; Forest Oasis Waterscape water park with lazy river; four restaurants and lounges.
The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center
Located on Waterway; 334 guest rooms; 66,532 sq. ft. of meeting space made up of 27 event rooms; 37,180-square-foot exhibit hall; convention center features more than 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting facilities; full-service spa; fitness center; pool.