Add another luxury hotel to the plans for Downtown.
The 102-year-old Samuel F. Carter Building at 806 Main has been gutted as crews work to transform it into a 323-room JW Marriott.
Pearl Hospitality is spending $80.8 million to develop the new luxury hotel at the corner of Rusk Street in the center of Downtown. The hotel will include a full-service bar, spa, health club, executive lounge, swimming pool and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
The hotel is slated to open in spring of 2014. The project is being financed partly through a public/private partnership with the city of Houston.
Local officials, including Mayor Annise Parker, participated in a groundbreaking ceremony on May 17.
The Carter building is hailed as one of the city's architectural gems, but had fallen into disrepair in recent years. When it was first constructed, it was the tallest building in Houston.
"A lot of people right now are looking at Downtown and saying ‘we want to build,'" Mayor Parker said at the groundbreaking. "I appreciate the fact that there are folks who were willing to look at this building, see past its shabby state, and instead see its potential. When we restore a building like this, we take a piece of history and give it to the future."
Downtown's hotel landscape is seeing more and more action. Work began last month on a $10 million renovation of the historic Lancaster Houston Hotel. Completion of that project is slated for mid-summer, bringing a fresh look to the 93-room boutique property. A few blocks south, the longstanding Humble Oil Building complex at Main Street and Dallas is getting a new 166-room SpringHill Suites hotel. The complex is already home to a 191-room Courtyard and 171-room Residence Inn. Construction on that project is slated for completion in mid-2015. And in December, RIDA Development Corp. and Houston First announced plans for a new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis that will rise adjacent to the GRB Convention Center. The massive hotel will join the Hilton Americas Houston as the city's second convention center hotel, dramatically increasing Houston's ability to host major conventions. Construction on that property is scheduled to begin in 2014 with completion in spring 2016.
We don't envy Houston food critics. It can't be easy dissecting the best (and sometimes the worst) restaurants in this dish-diverse culinary capital. You're bound to get a lot of criticism from chefs and diners for your take on things and, let's face it, with all the eating out involved you kinda need to run a marathon each week to avoid a coronary.
So kudos to the Houston Press' Katharine Shilcutt for stepping out on a limb to call out the top 10 restaurants in Downtown Houston. It's a varied list of newbies (Goro & Gun) and old favorites (Irma's) that highlight much of what makes Houston a hot dining scene. And most of these places are easily accessible to visitors and convention-attendees staying in Downtown hotels.
1. Oxheart "three different chef's tasting menus are available at night"
2. Quattro at the Four Seasons simple, streamlined Italian dishes and house-made pastas
3. Line & Lariat modern Texas fare inside Hotel Icon
4. Irma's "enormously comforting Mexican mom-food"
5. Hubcap Grill "famous for fusion burgers"
6. Vic & Anthony's "Downtown's premier steakhouse is all glitz, all glam, all the time"
7. The Burger Guys/Bombay Pizza independly owned lunchtime favorites
8. The Grove/Lake House two distinct spots inside Discovery Green
9. MKT Bar @ Phoenicia "urban European feel to the scene that's unusual and appealing"
10. Goro & Gun/Batanga newest spots offering ramen and tapas respectively
Shilcutt also called out a handful of honorable mentions for various characteristics-"badass red beans and rice" for more than three decades goes to Treebeard's, best view in the city goes to Spindletop at the Hyatt.
Click here for Shilcutt's full take on these Downtown hotspots.
It's big, it's green and it's found a new home at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
A 10-foot, sarcophagus that may date back to 664 BC will soon be on display in the museum's new Hall of Ancient Egypt. This week museum staff allowed media a sneak peak at the new 10,000-square-foot hall and the sarcophagus of Gemshuankh, a priest of the god Hersihef. The hall opens to museum members Memorial Day Weekend and to the general public May 31.
The new permanent Egypt hall is part of HMNS' major expansion that began with the opening of the Hall of Paleontology last summer. Thousands of years after the Egyptians ruled the Nile Valley, people remain fascinated by this civilization that flourished for more than three millennia. The hall's exhibits will explore everything from writing and religion to natural resources and burial practices of the ancient culture.
Hundreds of artifacts, including the museum's mummy, Ankh Hap, will be on display in the hall. Instead of displaying staid exhibits, the hall aims to immerse visitors in the daily life of ancient Egypt.
Click here for more on the hall.
It's been quietly turning out quality theatrical performances for nearly four decades, most recently in its intimate space on the edge of Rice Village. Now Main Street Theater is embarking on a $3 million capital campaign to renovate and add to that space-and it's already almost halfway there.
The independent theater company has raised $1.3 million toward its goal, money which will go toward paying off the debt on its building purchase and expand. Plans call for adding a second level of classroom/rehearsal space as well as new restrooms, a major redo of the lobby and concession areas and more.
The theater company hosted a kickoff event at its facility on May 13. Major construction will likely start in early 2014 and should be complete by the end of next year.
The Houston Endowment is responsible for getting Main Street part of the way toward its goal with a $500,000 gift. Other donors include The Brown Foundation and the Simmons Foundation.
Later this month Main Street will stage its last production of the season, Close Up Space.
The website Causes.com has ranked Houston the 10th greenest city in America.
The organization cited the city's efforts to become more environmentally conscious, developing a city Office of Sustainability, increasing recycling efforts and more. City-sanctioned farmers markets, electric municipal vehicles and a growing bike share program were other elements that probably helped Houston's placement on the list.
Meanwhile, the city is also getting attention for the Bayou Greenways Initiative, a bond-funded effort that will connect all of the city's bayous via hundreds of miles of hike and bike trails.
Click here for more details.
The Alley Theatre is about to get a major makeover that will elevate Houston's resident dramatic company to a new level.
This week officials with the Alley announced a $73 million capital campaign that will fund the renovation, enabling the theater to offer more shows, a greater variety of shows and provide patrons with an enhanced experience (can anyone say larger restrooms?).
Designed in the "brutalist" architecture form epitomized by unadorned poured concrete, the Alley building hasn't undergone a major overhaul since it opened in 1968. The plan calls for a major cleaning of the building's exterior, a new "fly space" that will allow for rapid scenery transformations and several tweaks to the stage set-up.
"This is not just about the building," Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd told the Houston Chronicle. "We're excited about the prospect of what will feel like a new facility, bringing it into the 21st century in terms of what we can create on stage, as well as the comfort of the audience. Yet also keeping the 'Alleyness' - the building's iconic architecture and the intimacy between actor and audience that our patrons love. The whole campaign is about the artistic product and the experience it affords to the artists and the audience."
Beyond the major renovations, money raised through the capital campaign will go toward two other initiatives: artistic enhancement and an expansion of the theater's endowment.
The company has so far raised $30 million of the planned total of $74 million, but it must raise another $16 million before it can finalize a timeframe and other details for the project.
Founded in 1947 by Nina Vance, the Alley is one of the oldest resident theater companies in the country. The company operated in two smaller locations, before opening its downtown complex housing the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage.
Click here for more from the Chronicle. And click here for more renderings of the planned renovation.
Have you seen the racks popping up around Houston?
The city's B-Cycle program kicked into high gear in April, expanding from a pilot phase of just three bike racks around Downtown to a total of 21 racks stretching from Montrose to the Museum District.
The bike-share program allows member users to check-out cruiser-style bikes free of charge for up to an hour and just $2 for each additional ½ hour. The obvious goal is to give Houstonians a vehicular alternative for relatively short jaunts. There is a membership fee on the front end, ranging from just $5 for a 24-hour pass or $65 for an annual membership.
Users can sign up for a membership online or at any of the stations. Click here for a map of stations across the area.
B-Cycle is ideally suited for those looking for an inexpensive way to tour around the city's core, along Buffalo Bayou or through the tree-lined streets of Montrose.
For more information, visit the B-Cycle homepage.
The Houston Pavilions is getting a makeover and a new name.
Construction begins in April on the Downtown retail development in the heart of the Convention District, which will be renamed GreenStreet.
The primary change at the half-million-square-foot complex is the creation of a new linear park featuring benches, planters, lawns and water features designed to make the space more attractive to pedestrians. The Pavilions has experienced some trouble attracting and keeping tenants, but the property's new owners hope to change that with the renovation and re-imaging effort.
The facility now includes restaurants, retail and entertainment concepts such as House of Blues, Forever XXI, III Forks, McCormick & Schmick's and Lucky Strike bowling. Soft goods retailers have had a tougher time at the center.
Last year, the Pavilions was purchased out of receivership by a partnership that included Midway Companies and California-based Canyon Johnson Urban Funds.
The renovations are slated for completion by the end of the year.
Houston's hotel market is heating up, and with that, developers are adding more properties while existing hotels get a makeover.
Owners of the Lancaster Houston Hotel, the 93-room boutique property at the corner of Louisiana and Texas streets, announced this week that work will begin in April on a $10 million renovation of the historic property.
The family-owned Lancaster is getting an extensive redesign that will include the hotel's lobby and meeting spaces, as well as all guest rooms and suites. The project will also include upgrades to the property's technology and mechanical systems.
The Lancaster opened as the Auditorium Hotel in 1926 and reopened as the Lancaster in 1983. The hotel will remain open during renovation as work proceeds one wing of the hotel at a time. Completion is targeted for mid-summer 2013.
According to a release, the Lancaster's new interior design will echo classic American styling with a bow to the hotel's Theater District location. The décor will use men's suiting fabrics mixed with a rich palette of luxurious accents and furnishings, including premier bedding and bathroom fixtures and fittings by WaterWorks.
A few blocks south of the Lancaster, the historic Humble Oil Building complex on Main Street and Dallas, is getting a new 166-room SpringHill Suites hotel. The complex is already home to a 191 Courtyard and 171-room Residence Inn. The property's Maryland-based owner, RLJ Lodging Trust, is converting the third structure that currently houses apartments into the hotel.
Construction on that project is slated for completion in mid-2015. The new hotel will likely benefit from its close proximity to the George R. Brown Convention Center, just six blocks away.
All of this comes at a time when Houston's hotel market is experiencing a significant upswing. According to data from Smith Travel Research, occupancy at Houston hotels showed the largest increase of the nation's top 25 hotel markets in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 6.9% from fourth quarter 2011. What's more, Houston's average revenue per available room, a key metric in the hotel industry, increased 12.6% to $58.65 in the fourth quarter, the fifth highest increase in the U.S.
In December, RIDA Development Corp. and Houston First announced plans for a new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis that will rise adjacent to the GRB Convention Center. The massive hotel will join the Hilton Americas Houston as the city's second convention center hotel, dramatically increasing Houston's ability to host major conventions. Construction on that property is scheduled to begin in 2014 with comletion in spring 2016.
A new mural in Downtown Houston's Market Square District aims to boost local pride by drawing attention to the city's more celebrated characteristics.
The colorful mural from acclaimed graffiti artist GONZO247 is going up on the side of a historic building that currently houses Treebeard's restaurant, just across from Market Square Park. Work began on the mural in mid-March and should be complete by early April (see a time-lapse progression below).
The mural is an offshoot of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau's new Houston Is... ad campaign. The half-million dollar, national imaging campaign now appearing in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal uses local trendsetters in the culinary and arts scenes to showcase the arenas visitors come to Houston to experience. The finished piece will show the Houston skyline in silhouette surrounded by a bright, abstract mosaic of vibrant color and some of the words used in the campaign, such as hip, tasty and inspired.
The mural is being executed in partnership with the Downtown District and the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs.
"The design of the mural is set up so that these words that represent what Houston is about are stacked in a way that they're actually holding the city up. They make the city what it is," says GONZO247. "Then from behind the skyline you have this explosion of color that represents the energy of the city, our diversity and culture."
The artist says there is also a more subliminal element to the image, which suggests a butterfly in flight. "Houston has been overshadowed for so long, sort of written off. But quietly we've been developing, sort of in a cocoon," he says. "Now the city has become what it was always intended to be, it's really taking flight."
GONZO247 launched his spray paint-based career in Houston 25 years ago. Since then, he's opened his Aerosol Warfare gallery/studio and worked with top brands such as Converse and Red Bull on urban-inspired ad campaigns. In addition to creating numerous murals around town, he's also produced videos documenting street art.