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Houston’s New Mayor Halts City Deal To Build Hotel, Convention Center

Houston Mayor John Whitmire has pressed pause on the potential approval of a deal between the city and local firm Lovett Commercial to help pay for the development of a Downtown hotel and convention center near POST Houston.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire

Whitmire expressed concern about the deal potentially hindering legislation he helped pass last year as a state senator, adding that the agreement struck between former Mayor Sylvester Turner's administration and Lovett Commercial could set a “terrible precedent.” 

That agreement would involve Lovett building a 21K SF convention center and a 90-to-200-room hotel at 401 Franklin, the same site as POST, the Houston Chronicle reported. Lovett also developed POST Houston, a 670K SF mixed-use facility in the former Barbara Jordan Post Office

Houston City Council members were set to vote on a proposal giving the hotel state tax rebates for 10 years this week during Whitmire’s first regular council meeting. The vote was instead postponed so Whitmire’s office could review it, the Chronicle reported. 

The cost of the project isn't established, but the city would own the convention center and lease it to Houston First for management upon completion. 

Whitmire said approval of the project could interfere with state legislation passed last year that would bring $2B to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center over the next 30 years. 

“The concern is it sets a terrible precedent,” Whitmire said, according to Houston Public Media. “Because I can only imagine what other operators are thinking. No. 2, it really jeopardizes the legislation I passed to create an entertainment district in central Houston.” 

Senate Bill 1057 allows Houston First to collect state occupancy taxes from hotels within a 3-mile radius of the George R. Brown Convention Center, which the proposed hotel at POST Houston would fall within. Whitmire said giving tax breaks to the developer of the new convention center and hotel would take away money the city could otherwise reap, HPM reported.

Some residents showed up at the meeting to say they also had concerns about the level of information available about the project, HPM reported. 

“I just want the council to really delve into and address the transparency of the real estate transactions and see if this will benefit our citizens or the development company behind the transaction,” Houston resident Amber Boyd-Cora said. 

Before being elected in a December runoff, Whitmire was seen as commercial real estate’s Houston mayoral candidate of choice. Whitmire told Bisnow he intends to improve permitting wait times to streamline projects, “but we must ensure new development does not drive out the original residents of a neighborhood due to increased property taxes or rents.”