By John Egan
As one of the country's 10 largest convention facilities, Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center has served millions of convention-goers - and has served them well. Every year, the center adeptly hosts more than 40 major conventions and more than 200 smaller events.
Now, the George R. Brown Convention Center and the entire Houston Convention District are in the midst of a massive transformation that promises to make the area an even more attractive option for conventions and events.
One of the key improvements is a 1,000-room Marriott Marquis hotel that will adjoin the convention center. It's scheduled to open in September 2016.
The $355 million, 29-story Marriott Marquis Houston, featuring more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space, will be the second major convention hotel connected to the convention center. The 40,000-square-foot main ballroom will be the largest in Houston. Amenities at the Marriott Marquis Houston will include five restaurants, a 5,000-square-foot spa and a 5,000-square-foot fitness center. Then, there's a one-of-a-kind "lazy river" shaped like the state of Texas.
This will be one of only six elite Marriott Marquis properties in the United States.
"When the Marriott Marquis opens its doors in 2016, it will increase the hotel room capacity in downtown Houston by 20 percent and will give the George R. Brown Convention Center tandem hotels bookended at each end of our building. This will make our city exponentially more attractive to the largest and most prestigious conferences and trade shows in the world," said Dawn Ullrich, President and CEO of Houston First Corporation, which oversees the convention center and nearby facilities.
Aside from the Marriott Marquis Houston, three other hotels are coming to the Convention District in 2015. In all, plans are in place to add more than 2,000 hotel rooms in the district by 2016.
Terry Beutler, the convention center's Senior Vice President for Convention Sales, said: "Houston's hotel package is much more attractive for those planning events in 2016 and beyond. This is a very exciting time in our neighborhood."
Here are some of the other improvements on the way in the Convention District "neighborhood":
● Four street-level retail spaces are being added at the convention center.
● A Metro station for a new light-rail line is planned for the northwest corner of the convention center.
● A more pedestrian-friendly area, with widened sidewalks and more green space, is being added in front of the convention center. This area leads to the 12-acre Discovery Green park.
● An upscale Pappasito's restaurant and a new coffee bar are on tap at the Hilton Americas-Houston, the existing hotel connected to the convention center.
● One new street-level retail space will be included in a new garage and office building to be built just north of the convention center.
● The Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, within walking distance of the convention center, is set to open in the fall of 2016.
Learn more about the evolving Houston Convention District at visithouston.com/meetings.