Houston is busy readying itself for Super Bowl LI, which hits town February 2017, as visible by all the cranes you see from Uptown to downtown's Convention District.
The area around the George R. Brown Convention Center is getting a major overhaul thanks to a $175 million project, which boasts improved transit access; renovations to the exhibit concourse, main lobby and façade of the convention center; a revamped Avenida De Las Americas; and a 10-story office building. The project is aiming to be ready in time for the big game: construction is 12 months away from completion, according to GRB director of operations David Osterhout.
In addition, the Convention District is getting a $370 million Marriott Marquis hotel, currently being built and slotted to open in fall 2016.
A.J. Mistretta with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau gives the total cost of improvements to the area at $1.5 billion.
Houston First Corporation hosted a media tour of the construction, giving out hard hats shaped like Stetsons emblazoned with the phase "Houston's Got Tex Appeal," and CultureMap got a first-hand look. Here’s what to expect:
Bus passengers will enjoy improved drop off and pick up spots thanks to two new transit centers located on the south and north ends of the GRB. The shaded areas will provide guests with a direct route to convention registration desks via escalators that lead to the second floor of the convention center.
METRORail’s new purple line, which runs along the north side of the GRB through the Convention District, will be easily accessible. The opening of the transit stations also leaves the street that fronts the convention center, Avenida De Las Americas, open for more event space.
GRB Exhibition Concourse
The concourse is being expanded by an additional 100,000 square feet, providing more registration space, plus six yet-to-be-announced restaurants that can be accessed from both the interior of the GRB and from the street for accessibility after convention hours.
The reconfigure, however, will reduce expo space by 100,000 square feet, raising the question of how the GRB plans to draw big league conventions. According to John Solis, SVP of Sales for the GHCVB, the GRB wouldn't have qualified even before the decrease.
"We vetted about 573 major conventions and we can accommodate 95 percent of those. The other five percent are the ones that go to Vegas, etc. We’d have to double the space to accommodate them and get to 10,000-15,000 hotel rooms concentrated in the downtown area," he said.
GRB Main Lobby
A grand entryway and an art-inspired pedestrian plaza facing Discovery Green will be added to the center of the convention center. The lobby will feature a hanging sculpture by artist Ed Wilson, a lounge space and a concierge desk. The plaza will feature movable planters, umbrellas and furniture adjustable per event.
And in what's surely good news for the social media savvy: The GRB is installing a new antenna system, guaranteeing you’ll be able to Tweet it up during Super Bowl LI weekend despite the masses.
The front of the GRB is getting a facelift, opening it up for more event space and dramatic skyline views.
“It’s a very long façade so we focused on the center area. We’ve kept with the nautical and industrial theme (of the GRB) and played off it without being literal,” said Marie Hoke of Team Hoke Architecture & Consulting.
The remodel includes removing the old façade, popping out the existing three front bays and adding ultra transparent glass made of low iron glass to make the building more transparent.
An added eyebrow canopy above the three bays will add shade below. Four outdoor balconies will overlook the plaza providing sweeping views of the downtown skyline.
Avenida de Las Americas
Avenida de las Americas, which runs between the GRB and Discovery Green, will be narrowed to two lanes from six, which the GRB can shut down for big parties.
The Partnership Building
A 10-story office tower, with an attached parking garage for 1,900 vehicles will be connected to the convention center via skybridge. Don’t bother calling your real estate agent, though. The 100,000 square foot space is already accounted for with future tenants, including the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Houston First, Houston Sports Authority and the Houston Hotel and Motel Association, with a move-in date of May 2016.
Five hotels are currently under construction downtown: Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites (at Crawford, between Rusk and Capitol streets); Holiday Inn Downtown (housed in the converted former Savoy Hotel); Hotel Alessandra (at Fannin and Polk streets); Aloft Houston Downtown (at Fannin and Walker streets); and Marriott Marquis, which will bookend the GRB on one side (the Hilton Americas-Houston is on the other side of the convention center).
Scheduled to open in the fall of 2016, the 30-story Marriott Marquis will be connected via skybridge to the convention center. The hotel will offer 1,000 guest rooms and over 100,000 square feet of meeting space, including what will be Houston’s largest ballroom at 39,000 square feet.
The hotel will feature a full service spa and fitness center, two penthouse suites (the only two rooms with balconies), a two-story sports bar (with rumors of a Houston sports star at the helm), two specialty restaurants (one Cajun-themed and one possibly with a James Beard-nominated chef behind it), a wine bar, café and pool bar and grill, and a 60,000 square-foot sixth-floor terrace with a Texas-shaped lazy river and infinity pool. “It’s the world’s only rooftop lazy river,” said Marriott Marquis director of sales and marketing Jay Marsella.
Expect the first check-in date to be around Labor Day 2016.