By Mara Soloway, Images courtesy Houston First Corporation
The countdown clock is ticking toward Houston playing host to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017. During the 10 days leading up to that Sunday, the city and its many attributes will be on the national and international stage, with events taking place at Reliant Stadium, Downtown Houston and the Galleria. While the economic impact can’t be predetermined, the expected 1 million visitors from around the country and the world will be introduced and in some cases reintroduced to All Things Houston.
The city has a thriving business community, international influences and many other qualities that make sense to highlight during a sporting event. But the City of Houston, the Super Bowl Host Committee and several governmental and quasi-governmental entities also consider Houston’s cultural attributes important enough to showcase them to Super Bowl attendees, including locals and visitors.
After all, Houston is known nationally as the Culinary and Cultural Capital of the South, according to Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation, which is supporting the Super Bowl Host Committee’s marketing efforts as a Destination Partner. Houston First has led the effort to promote Houston since the local government corporation was formed in 2011. It operates Houston’s convention, arts and entertainment venues, including the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB), Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Wortham Theater Center, Talento Bilingue de Houston, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston First Outdoors and Theater District Parking.
“As the most ethnically diverse city in the country, Houston boasts over 10,000 restaurants representing cuisine from more than 70 countries and American regions,” Ullrich said. “Additionally, Houston has a museum district housing 19 cultural institutions, a theater district spanning 17 blocks and nearly 13,000 theater seats in a concentrated downtown area. Outside of our culinary, theater and arts scenes, Houston is home to NASA/ Space Center Houston.”
In Downtown Houston, Avenida Houston – the neighborhood around the GRB – has been experiencing sweeping changes, long before Houston was chosen to host the Super Bowl. In addition to convention goers, Avenida Houston was built to also attract locals to dine at restaurants, enjoy happy hours on the plaza, and tour a variety of art installations. Houston First is overseeing the development of Avenida Houston, which by 2017, will be one of the most dynamic entertainment and hospitality campuses in the country.
“Avenida Houston will be the only district of its kind in Texas, with two headquarter hotels connected to a single convention facility. The project is slated for completion before Houston welcomes the Super Bowl in 2017. It will also feature new street-level retail spaces at the GRB, mostly restaurants, as well as striking public art,” Ullrich said.
“Infusing restaurants and art installations into the project is a way for convention goers to experience a ‘taste’ of Houston during their busy meeting schedules, and hopefully pique their interest in the city so they’ll be more inclined to get out and explore — or come back again.”
Restaurants that are slated to be open prior to the Super Bowl, and most likely in January, include Bud’s Pitmaster BBQ, Cueva & Texas T, Grotto Downtown, Xochi, Highdive, Kulture and McAlister’s Deli.
Houston Infusion is the public art initiative in the Convention District that is bringing a series of 10 public art installations by local Houston artists and placing them throughout the built area. Once complete, Houston First will work to provide a public self-guided walking tour of all of the works.
Some of the completed installations are:
- Ben Woitena’s The Brown is Green is located at the GRB’s L-shaped large column (north). Woitena’s images place wildlife and plants that inhabit Houston’s extensive recreational green spaces into the space of the convention center on what might appear to be a very large-scale old photo album.
- Page Piland’s assemblage Houston’s Own Tall Forest! at the GRB charging station (level 3 center) is inset with indigenous woods that are shaped, cut and painted to reflect silhouettes of the city’s iconic tall buildings and the San Jacinto Monument. Visitors will recognize Houston’s beautiful forest of tall buildings, which are indicative of the city’s success, pride and optimism.
- Reginald C. Adams’ Creatia at 800 Clinton Drive pays homage to Houston as a dynamic, multicultural, urban metropolis and the anchor for space exploration in the U.S. Labyrinths – the ancient archetype for self-discovery – are layered amongst each other like planets orbiting across the universe.
- Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola’s Night Trees consists of three photographs taken during his night walks of different characteristics of the trees in a situation of apparent rest, almost inert and beautiful. The display is located at the GRB charging station (level 2 center).
Art installations in progress include two large-scale works, Ed Wilson’s Soaring Through the Clouds and Joe O’Connell’s Wings Over Water, which began installation in early October. Four others will be installed by the time Super Bowl arrives.
Leading up to Super Bowl LI, the NFL Experience will take place inside the George R. Brown Convention Center, and Super Bowl Live in Discovery Green and surrounding areas. A tour package for visitors to experience the city surrounding the Super Bowl Experience is in the works; details will be announced at a later date.
Ullrich cites other aspects of Avenida Houston and the convention center area that have brought/are bringing enhancements:
- The GRB, which marks its 30th year of operation in 2017, has a new façade that also includes a grand concourse for convention guests. Among other improvements, the convention center will have a skybridge connection to the new Marriott Marquis Houston at the north end of the GRB. The 1,000-room hotel will have 100,000 square feet of meeting space, plus a one -of-a-kind Texas-shaped lazy river and infinity pool. The companion hotel, the existing 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston, connects to the south end of the GRB and recently opened a Pappasitos as well as a Starbucks offering the new “Starbucks Evening” service.
- In front of the convention center, five city blocks will be transformed into Avenida Plaza. Eight lanes of vehicular traffic have been reduced to two so as to accommodate this pedestrian-friendly space and wider sidewalks. Also new is the Grand Stage, an open-air gathering space for concerts on ADLA Plaza that will allow for meetings and parties just steps away from conferences.
- Tied to the plaza, The Wharf will bring an intimate, tree-lined patio space where attendees can overlook Discovery Green, or dine alfresco from one of the new restaurants currently in development. Space for more than four restaurants is being created on the ground level of the GRB. When open, they can be accessed by dining patrons from either the plaza or the concourse inside the GRB.
- Next to the GRB, the newly opened Partnership Tower houses employees from Houston First, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Hotel Lodging Association and the Sports Authority. It abuts the GRB at the north end with the two buildings linked via sky bridge. More retail or restaurant space will eventually be built at street level. Partnership Tower features light rail lines on both sides, with one set of tracks running right through the 1,900-car garage and transit center. The entire structure was built with a foundation that can later support the addition of an additional hotel on top.
- Discovery Green across the way, with frequent movies in the park, live concerts, yoga, a dog park and playground for kids.
“All of this to say, Houston is a cultural city by every definition. We want attendees to experience as much of what our city has to offer in a highly impactful and comprehensive way,” Ullrich said.
“Hosting the Super Bowl is a unique opportunity to spotlight Houston on a national scale, and we want to make sure to leave a positive and lasting impression.”
Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation.
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Category: Cy-Fair People & Places