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Real Estate Bisnow
   
January 7, 2013 
 
 
Convention District
Makeover

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Huge projects are kicking off around the George R Brown Convention Center, and if RIDA Development prez Ira Mitzner has his way, people walking Downtown in 2017 will beam “what the heck happened?” We rounded up some of the deals that may change the face of the convention center district.
 
Ira Mitzner and Dough Childers
We snapped Ira and Morris Architects principal Doug Childers with renderings of the Houston Marriott Marquis Convention Center Hotel. With Houston First, they’re developing the 1,000-room project at Crawford and Rusk, but they feel responsible for energizing the entire area. (Doug calls this project one of the most significant in Morris’ 75-year history.) The goal: Be a stronger convention market. Ira tells us the GRB is the largest convention facility in Texas but fourth in bookings thanks to insufficient hotel rooms—a CVB study found we lost 630,000 room nights from conventions from ’08 to ’12—and lack of activity around the GRB.
Lazy River
The hotel will feature multiple restaurants and 100k SF of meeting space to liven the area, but Ira hopes the Texas-shaped rooftop lazy river will really get people talking. (It's not a lazy river; it just has a habit of procrastinating.) He tells us it’s a costly addition, but he feels we need something different to create a buzz. Doug says he loves the opportunity to transform the convention center district and move Downtown forward. He’s in a good position to do it: Morris has offices five blocks from the site and is handling the area’s master plan.
Marriott Marquis
Ira says the kickoff meeting is Thursday, and we can expect groundbreaking around the end of Q1 ’14. Construction will take about 26 months, with opening in mid-2016. The next challenge is determining what amenities and uses will best serve the district. (Beer is usually a good place to start.) Looney & Associates (which redid the Hilton Americas recently) is handling interiors. Doug tells us 75% of the A&E team will be local firms (including the GC, which will be announced in a few weeks).

Next One Park Place?
 
Marvy Finger
Perhaps most of all, Downtown needs residential offerings. (You’ve all heard of the new Downtown Living Initiative Chapter 380 Program, which incents construction of multifamily housing east of Fannin.) The Finger Cos is doing its part with a 400-unit midrise on the site of the former Ben Milam Hotel. CEO Marvy Finger tells us he likes the east side of Downtown and, in particular, this site so close to the stadiums and light rail. The community will play off of One Park Place (only a few blocks away, it’s 96% leased, according to Central Houston) with the same amenities and finishes but smaller unit size (averaging 900 SF). It will also feature 20k SF of retail on Texas Avenue.
Ben Milam Hotel
Marvy says the biggest challenge so far was closing the street to demolish the hotel last month. He had to negotiate with the Houston Sports Authority to get it done, but the City was accommodating because it really wanted the hotel removed—several attempts to convert the hotel failed and the building had become a blight. He expects to break ground in March, and construction will take 18 months. Niles Bolton and Associates is handling design.

Mixed-Use Coming?
 
Ira Mitzner and Ric Campo
The corner of Rusk and Crawford is a busy one for Houston First (above, its chairman Camden CEO Ric Campo with Ira Mitzner): Besides the hotel, it’s building an 1,800-car garage to serve the Marriott Marquis and GRB, and it’s on the market with a 110k SF tract. Houston First COO of hotels Peter McStravick and John Harris tell us they want that site to go to a mixed-use developer and, in particular, get retail and residential uses. Peter says Houston First has a quick timeline for the site; they want it to be developed in conjunction with the hotel.
 
Convention Center
Now, consult your paint by number chart and let's color this in. Peter broke down activity in the convention center district for us in this helpful map. 1 is the Marriott Marquis. 2 is owned by HISD and will be a high school for visual and performing arts, and the western half of block 3 may become a limited-service hotel. 4 is Houston First’s tract (1.5 blocks) and 5 is the site of the new garage. 6 will house the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, and 7 (two blocks) will be the Finger Cos’ eight-story tower. The light rail expansion running along Capitol and Rusk will complete in August 2014, and Houston First recently expanded the sidewalks and added trees along Crawford.

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