News | Super Bowl makeover urged in East End
January 31, 2014
By David Kaplan | Houston Chronicle
Downtown boosters hope to use the 2017 Super Bowl as a catalyst to reshape the once-moribund East End of downtown into a dynamic new focal point of the city, building on an effort that began when Discovery Green park opened five years ago.
WHR ArchitectsAn artist’s rendering shows a Houston First Corp. proposal to transform the George R. Brown Convention Center area in time for the 2017 Super Bowl.
Representatives of Houston First Corp. are proposing to transform the area around the George R. Brown Convention Center into a landscaped and more walkable pedestrianfriendly city center, with more retail and less car traffic, in time for the city to host the NFL’s marquee game three years from now
Where cars and buses now dominate the area, there would be rows of trees and tables for sipping wine and snacking on tapas.
The project, which has yet to be formally approved, would involve opening up the center’s look by replacing the front walls with paned glass that allows dramatic views; adding restaurant and retail space and shaded places for people to sit at ground level; and reducing Avenida de las Americas that runs in front to three lanes from eight.
That space currently used by cars and buses would become a landscaped pedestrian area with a row of trees and tables for sidewalk dining.
“The convention center needs to be more than a big box to collect people,” said Marie Hoke, principal at WHR Architects, the project’s lead architect. “The goal is to break it down to a more human scale and offer more amenities to the building users and visitors to the district.”
It would be the area’s biggest makeover since Discovery Green and would leave its mark on the eastern edge of downtown long after the Super Bowl LI teams and their fans have departed for home.
Civic leaders have not put a dollar figure to the project, which would be funded entirely by Houston First, the quasigovernmental agency that owns the Hilton Americas Houston and manages more than 10 city-owned buildings including the convention center.
The project, if approved by the Houston First board, would be completed in spring 2016, said Ric Campo, who chairs both the agency and the Super Bowl 2017 host committee.
The convention center area would be a focal point of the city’s Super Bowl-related activities. Campo said it could accommodate about 100,000 revelers. Moving projects ahead
The approach of the 2017 game, he said, is helping to push a number of local projects forward.
Among the proposed construction projects for the George R. Brown area is a 2,000-car parking garage and office space that would be built on the block north of the center. Above that, a pad site would be built for a future hotel.
The convention district also would get more retail. The front of the convention center would have formal restaurants at both ends and informal dining spots in between.
The Hilton Americas would get a high-end coffeehouse facing the park. It was recently announced that a Pappasito’s Cantina will open on the west end of the hotel this spring.
The redesigned convention center would get a front entrance offering panoramic views of downtown, said Hoke, of WHR Architects. Beyond the new front doors would be a grand lobby space, she said.
Currently, buses and cabs pull up to the front of the convention center along Avenida de las Americas. But with the proposed project, buses would pull up to parking areas on the north and south ends of the convention centers and cabs would pick up and drop off in front of the Hilton Americas and the Marriott Marquis to be built nearby. Big league TV screens
The Marriott Marquis will have a street-level sports bar with some of the largest TV screens for sports viewing in the city, said Ira Mitzner, president of RIDA Development Corp., the hotel’s developer.
Mitzner described the overall plan as “transformational” and said it “will create a great friendly walking district” that intersperses event and hotel space with parks, sporting venues, retail and, eventually, the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage.
“Meeting planners are always looking for ‘new and different,’” he said.
While releasing detailed renderings on Thursday, Campo described the project as still in the conceptual stage. He said the Houston First board of directors has the authority to approve or reject the design and set the budget.
“This project is very exciting as the east side of downtown is often the first, and only, impression that Houston’s convention visitors get to experience,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. City’s focal point
Nick Massad, chairman-elect of Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, also is the owner of an Embassy Suites and the soon-to-bebuilt Homewood Suites/ Hampton Inn, both near the convention center.
The Houston Chronicle, January 31, 2014