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It's a liftoff

LAUNCH2 LAUNCH expands from pop-up beginnings

A major focus for Houston First going forward will be curating and managing LAUNCH, the 2,000 square-foot retail space on the ground floor of Partnership Tower.

As a result of the success and positive feedback received from the designers and visitors following the original pop-up earlier this year, the “re-launch” of the transformed LAUNCH space will feature 10-12 Houston-based designers and artisans and will rotate a group of new designers each month.

Sydney Dao, Houston First's new director of retail, will oversee the operation as LAUNCH works to build on the momentum earned during the Super Bowl in its pop-up incarnation.

Above, staffers Judi Quesonova, DeShawn Fitzpatrick and Natalie Young schmooze with designer Joshua Washington of the Edwige Pierre line of men's clothing.


Enterprise Development
Strategic Planning

Preparations have accelerated for Comicpalooza, a joint-venture partnership between HFC and GHCVB. One of the GRB’s largest annual shows, Comicpalooza will take place May 12-14. Celebrity appearances and 2,000 hours of programming highlight a weekend of activities for attendees.

Avenida Houston Shop

Avenida Houston Shop is now carrying John Henry brand seasoning, barbecue sauce and meat tenderizers. Also available in the shop are Hugo Ortega’s books “Street Food of Mexico” and “Backstreet Food.” The shop will add to the wares of its Houston Experience collection over the course of the next two months.

Hilton Americas-Houston

The Hilton Leadership Conference in March was held in San Francisco, where Hilton Americas-Houston received its third consecutive SALT Highest Guest Loyalty Award. Congratulations to Jacques D'Rovencourt and the entire hotel team for continuing to make the Hilton Americas a great place for our guests and our city.

Avenida Houston

No updates this month.

Cultural Development

No updates this month.


Cultural Facilities
Jones Hall

No updates this month.

Wortham Theater Center

A busy month at Wortham Center -- total attendance: 29,336 -- included a successful run of Houston Ballet’s production of "Cinderella." Society for the Performing Arts’ all-male ballet "Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo" was well-attended, too. "Hijas de su Madre," a Luis Jimenez production, was presented entirely in Spanish to a full audience.

City of Houston employees attended the Mayor’s Service Awards luncheon in the Grand Foyer and Houston First Corporation staff attended an all-employee breakfast in the Green Room.

Sales and Marketing

The Theater District sales team reports the following shows were booked since the last report:

Houston Latin Philharmonic: Mother’s Day Serenade – May 14, Wortham Center
Cookie Joe’s Dancin School Recitals – May 30-June 4, Wortham Center
Juan Morillo: Eva Ayllon en Concierto – July 15, Wortham Center
Teco Theatrical: Dave Koz – July 23, Wortham Center
LJ Productions: Cristian Castro – August 10, Jones Hall
South East Texas Damage Prevention Council: 811 Day Block Party – August 11, Jones Plaza
Associated Builders & Contractors: Excellence in Construction Dinner – October 18, Wortham Center
DocFest – December 29, Wortham Center

Tickets for the following shows have gone on sale since the last report:

METdance Recitals – May 6, Wortham Center
Kavita Krishnamurti – May 12, Wortham Center
Mother’s Day Serenade – May 14, Wortham Center
Welcome to Night Vale – July 14, Wortham Center
Eva Ayllon en Concierto – July 15, Wortham Center
Cristian Castro – August 10, Jones Hall

Miller Outdoor Theatre

Miller kicked off its 94th season with performances from Celtic Fire, starring renowned Irish tenor Michael Londra, and Diaz Music Institute's presentation of legendary salsa singer Ray De La Paz performing with Houston’s premier youth group Caliente, directed by Grammy Awards finalist Jose Antonio Diaz.

Theater District Parking

No updates this month.

Talento Bilingue

No updates this month.


Convention Facilities
George R. Brown/Avenida Houston Plaza

The George R. Brown hosted the 42nd Annual Fishing Show, ABB Customer World, Star of the South Dental, Society of American Gastrointestinal & Endoscopic Surgeons, HOUSTEX and Bassmaster Classic with an attendance of 81,897 in March. The GRB received rave reviews on its recent improvements from both new and repeat clients. In April, we will host FIRST Championship, a competition that brings together students of all ages for the ultimate celebration of science and technology with expected attendance of over 25,000.



The GRB's Brenda Petersen tests one of the new water refill stations.

Go Green at the Brown and refill your water bottles! The George R. Brown is a climate-friendly convention center committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In keeping with this goal, water bottle refill stations have been installed in public areas of the GRB.  This effort to promote use of reusable water bottles lessens the amount of paper and plastic that ends in the waste stream, and decreases litter associated with water consumption.

The GRB Green Team encourages all employees to reuse, reduce and recycle.  April 17-21 is dedicated as Green Week at Houston First and employees will have the opportunity to participate in fun activities associated with "going green."

Avenida Parking

Houston First continues to make improvements in the Avenida Houston garages. We have completed parking equipment installation in Avenida North and Avenida South garages and begin installation of new equipment for Avenida Central at the end of April.  The parking guidance system inside Avenida North has been live since January and, in late March, we completed installation of the final directional signage inside the garage.  

In March, visitors, events and meetings at the GRB utilized 67,621 parking spaces:  Avenida Central Garage:  16,289 cars; Avenida South Garage: 26,537 cars; Avenida North Garage: 13,281 cars; and Tundra Garage:  11,514 cars. Additionally, for event drop-off and pick-up, Houston ABB and SAGES utilized the south transit center; GHP, ABB and Bassmaster utilized the north transit  center.



Sales team members participated in the Destination Showcase in Washington, D.C., the Center for Business Intelligence Pharmaceutical Forum in Maryland, EnVision in Cleveland, the Meetings Industry Council in Denver, the Professional Convention Management Association Partnership Summit in Lake Tahoe and COCAL in Uruguay.  These events featured meeting executives from around the country, as well as Latin America, which plan significant events in the corporate, association and specialty markets. 

The citywide team secured over 24,000 definite room nights and generated over 250,000 possible room nights for future years with conferences utilizing one of our major convention facilities. The non-citywide team secured close to 27,000 definite room nights for conventions while adding another 134,000 tentative room night opportunities.

The international team added an additional 2,028 tentative room night opportunities.

Client Services

Client Services conducted seven planning site visits for upcoming conventions: FIRST Robotics (April 2017), National Athletic Trainers Association (June 2017), Texas Municipal League (October 2017), American Wind Energy Association (May 2019), Science Teachers Association of Texas (November 2017), Texas Association for School Nutrition (June 2017), and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (June 2018).

Client Services traveled to Orlando, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio, for attendance promotion for Wal-mart Stores Year Beginning Meeting (February 2018) and ACPA-College Student Educators International Convention (March 2018).

Event Services

Events Services assisted with 10 events last month: Large Show Round Table March 1-2, DMAI Destination Showcase in Washington D.C. March 2, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo BBQ Cookoff March 2-4, Betty Davidson’s Retirement Party March 6, Membership Orientation and Showcase March 8, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Suite Night March 9, American Legion Site Visit March12-15, Meeting Industry Council of Colorado Tradeshow in Denver March 14-15, GHCVB Annual Meeting/Tourism Summit March 30 and the National Urban League Reception March 31.

Corporate Culture

Corporate Culture assisted with an employee Breakfast & Learn focusing on Houston’s health needs with guest speaker Dr. Stephen Linder on March 16, and the New Year New You event featuring the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell on April 3.

General Counsel

No updates this month



Travel expert Samantha Brown was the keynote at the Tourism Summit.

Tourism hosted a successful Tourism Summit on March 30, achieving the primary goal of bringing together tourism professionals, community organizations, elected officials and educators. More than 600 people attended and heard from travel expert and TV host Samantha Brown as the keynote speaker.

Visit Houston also unveiled an enhanced packaging program aimed at providing high quality experience to visitors. The program called Bandwango is designed to offer curated experiences to target any visitor (or local) segment.

International promotions in March included:

Women’s Weekend in Mexico City: Tourism had a booth with consumer information and goodies to increase destination awareness.  The event featured more than 2,000 women from target market.

Tianguis Turistico: Houston was invited to the International Destinations in Acapulco and hosted a VIP dinner. Tourism also had a stand for business and press appointments.

VisitUSA Colombia Roadshow: Presentations were made to travel agents in Bogota, Medellin and Barranquilla.

Texas Tourism Canada Media Mission: Houston participated with other Texas cities on media appointments in Montreal and Toronto.

International PR hosted and/or supported familiarization visits for media and travel trade coming from Mexico, UK, China, Taiwan, German and The Netherlands.

International media value for March: $489,552; Total worldwide impressions: 4,000,000.


Membership held its inaugural Spotlight and Coffee Service Connection, hosting 16 attendees, while Membership Orientation hosted 87 attendees including prospects, new and existing GHCVB Members.

New members added in March were Holiday Inn Express Houston East, Comfort Inn East Houston, SpringHill Suites Houston Baytown, Candlewood Suites Houston I-10 East, Capone's Oven & Bar, Equimind, Pixels Custom Printing, LIVE! Event Design, Wynne Motor Coach, Lockridge Packaging, Southern Komfort Kitchen Restaurant & Catering, PrettyWork Creative, Comfort Suites Northwest Houston at Beltway 8, L&L Travel, Peli Deli, Doc Popcorn, Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies and Dippin Dots.

Corporate Affairs

The Community Relations team  participated in the following community investment events in March:     The Center for Houston’s Future Luncheon, Hotel Lodging Association of Greater Houston Luncheon,
Stages Starstruck Gala and the Space Center Galaxy Gala.

Public Affairs

In March, Public Affairs and 325 other travel advocates from 42 states and Washington D.C. attended more than 300 meetings with lawmakers during a record turnout for the U.S. Travel Association's annual Destination Capitol Hill event. The group stressed to Congress that while security is key, the U.S. must be clear that all approved international business and leisure travelers are welcome here. As a result, several new legislators have joined the congressional travel and tourism caucuses.  

Marketing and Communications

Meetings & Conventions had this leisure spotlight on Houston as a meetings destination and included the GRB and Avenida in this roundup of convention centers on the cutting edge. Smart Meetings looked at eight cities that are reinventing their convention districts, including Houston.

The London Evening Standard had a great write-up on where to stay, eat and drink in the city. Wine Enthusiast took a new look at Houston's wine and culinary options while Travelers Today, Texas Monthly and Southern Living dove into the local restaurant scene.

The New York Times discussed the hotel boom that Houston and other Texas cities are  experiencing.

Brides included a Houston spot on a list of great places to get engaged.

Essence included Houston as a top destination in the publication's roundup of “best food festivals” for the Houston BBQ Festival. Though it’s not destination related, this piece in the National Review examines Houston’s unique cultural diversity in a new light.

Regionally, the Houston Press, KHOU, and The Advocate showcased fun things to do in Houston. And our re-launch of LAUNCH was announced in both Houstonia Magazine and the Chronicle.

Our latest HFC/Visit Houston statistics were released and prompted coverage in the Chronicle, Exhibitor and on KUHF.

Meetings Today, Corporate and Incentive Travel, Houston Business Journal, Conventions South and the Chronicle all reported on our convention sales success for 2016.

USAE covered our recent Forbes Travel Guide hospitality training certification.

Travel Market Report highlighted collaboration between Tourism and Mexico and how we’re flipping the rhetoric.

In retail news, seasoned fashion influencer Sydney Dao has been named director of retail in the marketing department for Houston First.

Lastly, the team conducted eight interviews promoting Houston and hosted seven journalists covering Houston as a leisure destination.

In March, our network of websites generated 457,000 visits with a media value of $1.6 million.

Film Commission

In March, Houston hosted 29 film and video productions resulting in 104 filming days with direct expenditures of $1,720,000 and an economic impact of more than $5,160,000.  These projects include:

Features: The Candidate
Commercials: Sportswear “At Bat” and  Footlocker.
Television Series/Cable Series: Queen Of The South, The Vet Life, Skin Tight, My 600 Lb. Life,  Top Secret Swimming Holes, Animal Emergency, Criminal Confessions, House Hunters International, Outdaughtered and Animal Planet Vet Life.
Documentary/Industrials: “XQ Super School”, Recon Safety, Apache, Exxon Mobil, Sports Illustrated/Lexus, British Petroleum, Aramark, Political Campaign, Equinox, Cisco Products, El Creative Software, Pearson Educational and Zachry.
Still Photography: Sports Illustrated and Wells Fargo Bank.
Public Service Announcement: Verizon Gun Control

The Houston Film Commission attended the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin March 10-14, and sponsored the Film Texas BBQ during festival week.   The Film Commission attended the Dallas International Film Festival March 30-April 2 and sponsored the Film Texas Filmmakers Brunch.

Regional Product Development

Freeway corridor enhancements – Installations to enhance eight bridge fences over I-69 from Tuam Street to Bell Street has begun.  Look for work to start at Leeland and proceed south to Tuam at a rate of approximately one bridge per three days.

Jones Plaza – The re-imagining of Jones Plaza continues with update meetings and workshops with stakeholders. The re-programming study is expected to be complete by the end of May, followed by a selection process for the architectural design.

A new attraction for Houston – Following contract negotiations, AECOM is now on board to complete the feasibility study. The kickoff meeting is being held this week.

Potential public market – We are now in the process of conducting an analysis of potential sites for the establishment of a public market that focuses on East Downtown.  

Airport corridor enhancements – Houston First has convened a group of 15 stakeholders and is diligently working on three focus areas: beautification, enhanced maintenance standards, and design treatments for special areas such as underpasses.

Finance & Administration

F&A's financial management and accountability report can be found here.

Information Technology

IT is using various software tools to develop mobile web apps for Convention Services managers and GRB Operations.  The apps will make event document data more portable and lessen the need for paper reports.

IT is also conducting a feasibility study to determine the level of effort, cost and purpose of a data warehouse, which is a central repository of significant data or transactions, structured for queries and creating reports.

Procurement of a disaster recovery product has been completed and a project kickoff is planned for April.

An internal network security assessment is complete. The results were favorable with recommended items to improve the network and databases. A road map will be discussed to ensure that a review of the actions taken will be included future audit reviews.