At nearly 670 square miles, Houston’s ever-expanding sprawl, largely unhindered by zoning regulations, could fit Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and more combined. Inner Houston alone is looped by 42 miles of Interstate 610.
Groups may find navigating this vast metropolis elusive. “When driving around Houston,” observed the Houston Chronicle in 2018, “it often feels as if a giant Monopoly board was dropped on the floor and someone hastily placed the hotels and houses together on random properties.”
How do you meet, connect and find a sense of place in such a decentralized city? By zeroing in on Houston’s group-centric neighborhoods and districts. Each offers a rich mix of cross-category venues and new developments. Curated to make navigating Houston easier, here are the city’s hot zones for meetings and events.
Planned in 1970, Houston Center was meant to anchor the bold reinvention of downtown as the "city of tomorrow." While the project’s centerpiece—four soaring towers and a shopping center—was realized by 1983, little else was developed, and Houston’s multi-district downtown remained unexciting and uninviting for years.
Photo: Avenida Houston. Credit: Geoffrey Lyon Photography
That was then. True renaissance took root in 2008 with the opening of Discovery Green.
Situated between Houston Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center, this 12-acre urban park is credited with transforming the convention district and catalyzed some $1.25 billion in surrounding mixed-use development. Some of this includes the Marriott Marquis Houston and Hilton Americas-Houston
The 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston joined Hilton Americas-Houston in 2017 as the convention center’s second skybridge-connected headquarters hotel.
Hilton Americas-Houston also recently announced a $37 million modernization of all 1,207 guest rooms in early 2019. Estimated completion date is still pending. To complete the package, Avenida Houston sits nearby—it’s the convention campus’ dynamic $175 million, 97,000-square-foot entertainment district.
Now averaging an impressive 1.5 million visitors each year, the original green space at Discovery Green that spurred all of this development is in the midst an upgrade of its own. Some new amenities coming with the $12 million investment will include:
- New play structures for kids.
- More seating areas.
- Additional public art installations.
- A revamped entryway into the park, featuring an alley of lighted trees.
More strides are being made to revitalize downtown. Under a new 20-year master vision, Plan Downtown: Converging Culture, Lifestyle & Commerce, a consortium of city agencies, is aiming to further enhance visitor appeal, livability and connectivity in the Central Business District ahead of the city’s bicentennial in 2036. Houston Center itself is currently getting a major makeover, including proposed conferencing space.
Downtown Houston also has exciting updates happening to offsite venues that neighbor convention campus. Alongside major league sporting venues Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park, the Theater District’s Lyric Market is expected to open in fall 2020 and is one of several chef-driven food halls emerging in Houston. The venue reportedly includes a 4,000-square-foot outdoor deck.
Other group coordinates include:
- GreenStreet: A mixed-use, four-block development featuring shops, entertainment and dining.
- Market Square Park: The center of Downtown’s Historic District with plenty of green space and restaurants.
- Buffalo Bayou Park: A park just west of Downtown that spans 160 acres of gardens, trails, public art and more.
Behind the convention center, groups can discover the “Art & Soul of the City” in East Downtown, or EaDo. Incorporating Houston's Chinatown, the neighborhood’s vibrant cross-category venue mix includes 22,000-capacity BBVA Compass Stadium, 8th Wonder Brewery and multi-purpose performance venue Warehouse Live.
Five-star hotels, fine dining and luxury retail define Houston’s upscale urban business center and playground.
Bordering Memorial Park about six miles from Downtown, Uptown is home to 38 hotels with 8,100-plus rooms.
Photo: Grand Ballroom, The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston. Credit: Fretitta Entertainment
Group gems include Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston.
Six months after opening in March 2018, the 250-room property became Houston’s first and only AAA Five Diamond. It’s part of a 38-story mixed-use tower developed by Tilman J. Fertitta, chairman, CEO and sole owner of Landry’s Inc., Golden Nugget Casinos and the Houston Rockets.
[Related: New and Expanded Convention Centers Heat Up the Texas Market]
The brilliance of accents like the hotel’s lobby chandelier and museum-quality art collection extends to the hotel’s 35,000-square-foot conference facility. At 16,000 square feet, the 1,200-capacity Grand Ballroom is the largest in Uptown Houston. Groups also have two expansive prefunction areas, the 3,000-square-foot Post Oak Ballroom, and 10,000 square feet of conference and breakout room space.
The 20,000-square-foot spa is the first in Texas and first nationally at a AAA Five Diamond hotel to partner with pioneering French spa experts Cinq Mondes.
Dining draws include:
- The first Mastro’s Steakhouse in Texas.
- Garden-like Bloom & Bee.
- The Cellar, featuring a 30,000 bottle and $3.5 million wine collection.
Other defining amenities include the two-story Rolls-Royce showroom and direct helicopter pad access.
The neighboring Galleria is the largest shopping center in Texas and Houston’s top visitor attraction. Highlights include 400 stores, 60-plus eateries and attached AAA Four-Diamond Westin Galleria Houston.
Another Uptown enclave is The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa. Set on 27 wooded acres, this storied 289-room retreat recently announced $45 million in improvements including the complete remodeling of all rooms and suites and new rooftop event space.
The AAA Four Diamond Omni Houston Hotel, with 378 rooms and 30,000 square feet of flexible space, recently completed a $30 million renovation.
Uptown also has diverse culinary appeal for post-meeting eats, including two pioneers of the Houston scene. Hugo Ortega serves Mexican coastal fare at Caracol while Robert Del Grande just launched The Annie Café and Bar, the latest incarnation of his groundbreaking 80s hotspot Café Annie.
Houston Museum District
Set within a tree-lined neighborhood just southwest of Downtown, the Houston Museum District is Texas’ cultural champion. Comprising 19 cultural institutions within a 1.5-mile radius organized in four walkable zones, the district offers inspiring agenda starters for groups.
Of the 19, 12 offer venue rentals along with tours.
Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Credit: Adrian Somano
Prominent members of this group include Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Established in 1900, MFAH ranks among the nation’s 10 largest art museums with about 70,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. Completion of a multiyear, $450 million expansion is slated for late 2020. Neighboring Hotel ZaZa Museum District is a hip base for groups.
In May 2019, the Holocaust Museum Houston completed a $33.8 million expansion that more than doubled its size to 57,000 square feet, making it the nation’s fourth-largest Holocaust museum. New features include a 200-seat theater and expansion of the “Bearing Witness” permanent exhibit that includes testimony and artifacts from Houston-area survivors.
The Museum District borders 445-acre Hermann Park, which was set aside for the “health, comfort and happiness” of Houstonians in 1914. Here, the 55-acre Houston Zoo offers wild experiences for groups including 2,500-plus attendee receptions and post-sunset full buyouts from January to October.
There aren’t any guided tours or event hosting at The Menil Collection in Houston’s eclectic Montrose neighborhood, but it is a must-visit for anyone visiting Houston for its convention-defying juxtaposition of works spanning time and genres—purposely designed to invite personal contemplation and interpretation.
Houston’s major convention and event muscle extends to the massive NRG Park.
Photo: NRG Astrodome. Credit: Jack Opatrany for Visit Houston
Located below the Texas Medical Center, this complex of four highly versatile venues, complemented by expansive outdoor spaces, includes NRG Stadium. Home of the NFL’s Houston Texans and blockbuster events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the 71,500-seat venue offers 125,000 square feet of configurable space for general sessions and other uses. NRG Center has 706,000-plus square feet of contiguous space across 11 halls, with two major conference centers among 59 meeting rooms.
Dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened in 1965 as the first stadium and first air-conditioned event venue of its size, the 70,000-seat NRG Astrodome is coming back as an event venue following a $105 million renovation targeting completion in early 2020.
For whatever reasons you travel to Houston — whether it be for a big convention, small meeting or annual corporate retreat — keep this guide to its group-centric districts handy, and you’ll be set up for successful gatherings every time.
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