October marks the 15th anniversary of the opening of Toyota Center, the home of the Houston Rockets and hundreds of concerts over the decade-and-a-half since it opened its doors. It was the second stadium of four that were constructed within seven miles of one another in the last 20 years — and that doesn’t include University of Houston’s new TDECU Stadium and under-construction Fertitta Center across the street.
More importantly, the three stadiums within eight blocks of one other — Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park, and BBVA Compass Stadium — have radically altered the landscape of downtown, which coincided with the urban renewal that launched projects like Discovery Green and the recent transformation of Avenida De Las Americas.
That wasn’t always the case. There were many who doubted the ability of sports stadiums to attract visitors into downtown from the suburbs, let alone convince them to live there. Prior to Minute Maid Park, that part of downtown — most of downtown for that matter — was largely vacant after 6 pm and on weekends. Few developers were taking chances on the abandoned warehouses and empty lots that dotted the east side of downtown.
Now, the entire area is loaded with prime real estate, a fact that is not lost on Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta. “Everything that’s happening [around Toyota Center], that’s all happened after the fact,” Fertitta says during a press conference.
Just on the other side of the George R. Brown Convention Center, Astros owner Jim Crane remains committed to his slice of downtown. He recently renewed his team’s lease at Minute Maid Park through 2050 — it had been set to expire in 2030. “The Astros look forward to furthering our investment in downtown Houston,” Crane says in a statement in July after signing the new lease.
Fertitta acknowledged that the Astros saw the value of his ballpark’s address and the boom in construction around the area when he decided to extend the team’s lease. “That’s what Jim saw with Minute Maid. You’ve got the two hotel bookends. Behind one hotel is us. Behind the other hotel is Minute Maid Park.”
Fertitta hasn’t committed to sign a new lease at Toyota Center — the current lease runs through 2033 — though he understands the value of both the location and the building itself. “It’s a great building,” he says. “And now that you have cities expanding the way they have, you’re running out of land to build a project like Toyota Center.”
Considering what the area looked like before either Minute Maid Park or Toyota Center existed, it is clear those stadiums were vital to the improvements of downtown. From new residential developments to the boom in retail just across U.S. 59 in EaDo, the entire area owes its success, at least in part, to these facilities.
It doesn’t hurt that both teams have been diligent in maintaining their facilities. Like the Astros, the Rockets have made nearly constant updates to Toyota Center over the years. “When you move into a building, you immediately realize you could have done things better,” says Rockets CEO Tad Brown. They have retrofitted a number of areas and plan to continue making upgrades including what Fertitta calls a “major overhaul” in the next five years. “We have a lot of ideas and a lot of plans on what we are going to be doing,” Brown says.
With internal plans already in place, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rockets extend their lease at Toyota Center in the coming years much the way the Astros did. It makes sense not only because it is still a very good facility, but also because of where it sits, a point of emphasis for Fertitta:
“You’re not going to find a better location than the Toyota Center.”