Council approves deal to spin off Convention Center

Meet Houston First, which merges the city’s Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department and the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation, which runs the Hilton Americas.

The corporation will not have to come to the council to get expenses approved. The unionized work force of the city department will become private-sector employees of the corporation. The corporation is free to take chances by, for example, launching new trade shows without worrying that taxpayers are on the hook if the event is a bust.

Houston First will rent the GRB, Jones Hall and the Wortham Center from the city.


The concept has been talked about for a decade, but the plan approved on a 14-1 vote by City Council on Wednesday came together in recent months as Mayor Annise Parker’s administration looked for ways to close a $75 million budget gap without raising taxes.

The budget proposal she released last month banked on council approval of the merger and the $10 million in rent and fees the corporation will pay the city in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

See here for some background. The story notes that the Mayor’s office overcame some initial skepticism from various Council members, including CM James Rodriguez in whose district the Convention Center is and who was unhappy about not being briefed before the plan came to light. If the end results are similar to those of the Houston Zoo, which was spun off in 2002, then this should work out fine.

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