December 19, 2005
The Grapevine Dome hotel

Here's another story about another possible model for a possibly profitable Astrodome hotel/convention center.

Grapevine, a small city on Dallas' outskirts, is home to one of the Dome's distant spawn, the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.

And this hotel may serve as a model in the search for a second life for the venerable Houston landmark that many Houstonians hope can avoid the wrecking ball.

"Gaylord Hotels have shown a good example and good business model," said Scott Hanson, president of Astrodome Redevelopment Co., which has proposed turning county-owned Reliant Astrodome into an upscale convention hotel.

"It has been a successful business model for them. We want to consider what they've done and be like them but have some unique characteristics."

With 1,511 hotel rooms constructed around a 2.5-acre main atrium and two connecting smaller atriums, the Gaylord Texan provides a bright, modern take on cavernous, domed structures.

Conventioneers stroll on walkways past restaurants, fake canyons, an Alamo fa├žade, thousands of trees and plants, and a section reminiscent of the San Antonio River Walk.

Okay, I get that this sort of thing can succeed. I get that the Gaylord folks know their stuff. And I get that the Grapevine hotel draws a crowd, even though there's little in the piece to help me judge why that particular place is a going concern.

What I don't get, and what none of these articles have ever really answered for me, is why anyone thinks this location will be a good one for a hotel/convention center arrangement. The main objection to it, beyond the questionable economics of convention centers in the first place, is that this is a crappy location in which to stuff a whole bunch of people who'll want to go out for lunch and after-convention drinks and entertainment all at approximaterly the same time. There's no place to go that's in walking distance, unlike hotels downtown, in the Galleria area, or even in places like Greenway Plaza. The light rail will help, but speaking as someone who works one stop up from the Dome, there's not much to eat along the rail line until you get to at least the Museum District. All that in turn means lots of cars and driving for hotel guests, which is problematic because the roads that front the Dome and the Reliant Center back up easily. And who wants to drive around an unfamilar town in search of a meal? Especially since - again - there's precious little in terms of quality restaurants in the vicinity.

I know we want to do something useful with the Dome property, and maybe I'm just being excessively negative about this idea. Maybe this is the most feasible thing to do economically, I don't know. And who knows, maybe having the Dome Hotel in place would spur some commercial development in the area - Lord knows there's plenty of empty lots nearby on Main and Old Spanish Trail. I'm just saying that as things stand now, I'm pessimistic, and all the success stories from elsewhere can't do anything about that. And I see that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 19, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

How 'bout this idea?? As an homage to Marvin Zindler, we could turn the Dome into the world's largest brothel: you know, The Best Little Whorehouse in Houston!?!

Hey, I never said it was a GOOD idea....

Posted by: Jack Cluth on December 19, 2005 8:20 AM

Maybe the developers of the property on which sat Astroworld (R.I.P.) read Off The Kuff, Chuck.

And if they don't, they oughta.

A shopping mall including a handful of restaurants -- maybe a mid-rise condo there -- with some lanscaping that takes advantage of the canals and the other 'natural' environment already on that plot would be a winner. Would you jump the train south for lunch during the week? We would, and we're within walking distance of Smith Lands as well.

Tilman Fertitta should be all over this.

Posted by: PDiddie on December 19, 2005 8:48 AM

the Gaylord has multiple GOOD restaurants inside, at different price points and menus. There is NOTHING nearby for anyone to go to, but most seem happy to stay there.

Posted by: ajuka on December 19, 2005 12:47 PM

The piece that was mising from the article (regarding the Gaylord Texan and its success so far) was that the resort is situated reasonably close to D/FW Airport. Having tons of on-site amenities in a location close to the airport simplifies transportation planning for conference organizers.

Posted by: Rosenkavalier on December 19, 2005 1:43 PM

If the Astrodome is turned into a hotel, it's a pretty good bet that eventually there'll be plenty of restaurants and nightlife built nearby.

The problem would be in the transition. Anyone undertaking such a project would need to be prepared to lose money for several years until the surrounding businesses arrive to make the 'Dome a more attractive place to stay. And, the traffic from those who did choose to stay at the 'Dome would be a headache for Houston for the interim.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't count the idea out. Gaylord wouldn't be my first choice for political reasons alone, but I have to admit he's loaded, and I'm sure there are other hotel magnates that could make a go of this. They just have to be patient enough to see the long-term potential, which probably lets publicly-held corporations out of the picture but not privately-owned ones.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 19, 2005 4:13 PM