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Houston Astrodome May Get $400 million Transformation
 to a 1,000-room Convention Hotel

Houston Chronicle
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Sep. 23, 2004 - In a major shift, the company looking to redevelop the Reliant Astrodome has shelved plans to turn it into a space theme park and is instead looking to convert it into primarily a large convention hotel. 

The new plan still calls for some rides, possibly even of the space variety, other entertainment, restaurants, a cineplex and retail stores. 

But much of the area would be taken up by as many as 1,000 hotel rooms that would serve, in part, those attending conventions at nearby Reliant Center, said Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. 

"Part of our interest in this concept would be to increase the use of Reliant Center," he said Wednesday. "That would not be at the expense of the George R. Brown (Convention Center). We're trying to attract business to Houston that doesn't come here now." 

If the plan becomes a reality, Houston, which never had a convention hotel until the Hilton Americas opened next to the George R. Brown late last year, would have two as early as 2008. 

The city owns the Hilton and the George R. Brown. 

In the coming months, Astrodome Redevelopment Co., the company seeking to find another life for the former "Eighth Wonder of the World," will conduct detailed studies of whether the facility would be profitable, company President Scott Hanson said. 

If the studies conclude that it will be feasible, the company has lenders in place willing to finance what is expected to be a $400 million transformation, Hanson said. 

The sports and convention corporation, which oversees the Reliant Park complex, and Commissioners Court would have to approve the project. 

Without spelling out exactly what the company envisions, Hanson did disclose that the facility's amusement park component would have several themes, including space. 

There would be no rides that require rails. 

Many of the hotel rooms would overlook a striking interior that includes the amusement park features, retail stores and restaurants, said Bruce Broberg, an engineer at architectural giant URS, which is working on the project. 

Motorists on Loop 610 who eye the scruffy stadium daily would view an exterior that was cleaned, restored and spruced up with new elements to give it a distinguished appearance, Broberg said. 

Inside and out, "it will have a world-class appearance," Hanson said. 

Hilton Americas would remain the biggest hotel in the city, with 1,200 rooms, but the proposed hotel could become the second largest. 

Astrodome Redevelopment was created specifically to redevelop the stadium. 

Among the companies involved are Oceaneering International Inc., URS, theme park developer NBGS International and Falcon's Treehouse, a Florida-based design firm. 

The company initially proposed dividing the Astrodome's interior into quadrants, each with rides and attractions intended to let visitors experience the sights and sensations of space travel. 

The plan also called for retail stores and a hotel, but a much smaller hotel than the one now planned. 

That initial plan was among seven proposals submitted to the sports and convention corporation when it solicited ideas on what to do with the mostly idle facility. 

Hanson said it was too early to say whether the company would ask the county to help pay for the project and ask for tax relief. 

Loston said, "There are many things that could derail this." 

Hanson said the proposed hotel would draw new business to Reliant Center, not take it away from the downtown George R. Brown-Hilton Americas. 

As head of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jordy Tollett tries to attract conventions to the George R. Brown. But he said he does not oppose converting the Astrodome into a convention hotel because it would simply mean more hotel revenue for the region. 

He declined to say whether the proposed hotel would decrease business at the Hilton Americas. 

John Keeling, a senior vice president at PKF Consulting, which provides services to the hotel and tourism industries, said the city and the county need to study whether two convention centers with nearby hotels could be profitable and not turn into cut-throat competitors. 

"There are not very many successful examples of that around the country," he said. 

In cities where they have been successful, usually one convention area is downtown and the other is at the airport, he said. "The reason for having it at the airport is for the fly-in, fly-out convention," Keeling said. 

PKF Consulting provides services to the hospitality, real estate and tourism industries. 

Astrodome Redevelopment's idea, he said, sounds similar to a project that was done outside Dallas, where a 1,500-room hotel with an indoor theme park was built. 

"In general, what it sounds like they are trying to do is like the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine," Keeling said. "That is an entertainment-driven convention hotel." 

The Gaylord Texan overlooks Lake Grapevine and features a 25,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. Guests also can use the adjacent 18-hole Cowboys Golf Club. 

Similar hotel projects also have been done in Nashville and Orlando. 

By Bill Murphy and Bill Hensel 

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(c) 2004, Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail [email protected] HLT, 


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