August 22, 2005
Once again with the Astrodome Convention Center

I'm still trying to understand the arguments in favor of building a hotel/convention center complex out of the shell of the Astrodome.

The decline of the natural gas trading business, brought on by Enron's bankruptcy, also hurt hotels, said Joan Johnson, president of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston.

Downtown occupancy is at 58.3 percent this year, 3 percentage points higher than in 2004, and at 64.1 percent in the Houston area, 1 point higher than last year, she said. But those figures are still low by industry standards, she said.

At those occupancy rates, the area does not need another 1,200-room hotel that would be aimed at corporate travelers, Johnson said.

But she noted that Astrodome Redevelopment would not be duplicating downtown hotels' efforts and instead would go after conventioneers and tourists who view the hotel as a destination in itself, she said.

Don Henderson, vice president and managing director of the Hyatt Regency, acknowledged that the Hilton Americas has taken some business away from other downtown hotels since it opened two years ago.

But eventually the George R. Brown Convention Center will book more conventions because of the Hilton's proximity, and other downtown hotels will benefit from overflow that the Hilton can't handle, he said.

The same pattern would hold true for the Astrodome hotel and the conventions that it would help attract to Reliant Center, he said.

Willie Loston, director of the Sports and Convention Corp., said the Dome hotel wouldn't be able to accommodate all the attendees at every event, so other hotels would benefit.

Maybe I'm just being cranky, but how many people would actually view this thing as a destination unto itself? This isn't Las Vegas. Okay, so it'll have a fake Riverwalk inside. Wouldn't most people prefer the real thing? I don't understand this at all.

Second, "eventually" the GRB will book more conventions? When does that happen? Evidence elsewhere suggests that the convention center business overall is in decline, due in large part to oversupply. On what basis do we think the GRB is in for an uptick?

Finally, how many conventions that will require over 1200 hotel rooms does Willie Loston anticipate? And why wouldn't they be using the already-in-existence GRB/Hilton Americas?

The more I read about this idea, the more amazed I am that the Astrodome Redevelopment Corp. got funding for it. Has no one asked Heywood Sanders for his opinion on this?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 22, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Charles, your amazement is shared by many, but don't view the "commitment" of financing for the redevelopment as anything more than smoke. There may be a preliminary commitment to finance such a redevelopment conditioned upon A-Z occurring (such as huge ad valorem tax breaks for the venture). However, there is virtually zero chance of such conditions ever being fulfilled (that's why the "commitment" was issued in the first place) and even less chance that this project will ever come together under current conditions. More probably, floating a few of these boondoggles is simply part of the process that the County has to go through before deciding that the only realistic alternative is to tear down the Dome.

Posted by: Tom K. on August 22, 2005 7:58 PM

OK, I'm convinced. We're doomed.

Posted by: Jim D on August 23, 2005 6:06 AM

I went to the OTC this summer and it was in the Reliant Stadium convention center which is right next to the Astrodome. Between the Brown Convention Center, the one already next to Reliant Stadium and this Astrodome thing, that's a lot of convention center space for a city that few people want to visit. The idea of an Astrodome convention center wouldn't seem crazy if Houston weren't already overloaded with convention center space. But we have more than enough--I haven't heard any stories about how Brown Convention Center has been having to turn conventions away...

I want the Astrodome preserved and used for something practical and useful, but God knows I have no idea what that might be...


Posted by: Robert Boyd on August 23, 2005 9:46 AM

I'm curious if, with remarks about the hotel as a destination in itself, the backers of this plan are looking at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, which my San Antonio friends claim just rips off the SA Riverwalk.

While faux river is both nice and repugnant at the same time, Gaylord Texan was built in a growing area that didn't have a convention center to speak of. Plus, it was a center aimed at somewhat wealthy visitors. It doesn't sound like there's a similar situation in downtown Houston. The Gaylord is also situated among some large open areas. The Astrodome is in the middle of a lot of old, ugly concrete.

Posted by: Tx Bubba on August 24, 2005 9:33 AM

why dont they blow it up for less money

Posted by: jc on November 28, 2006 3:02 PM