|By Nancy Sarnoff, Houston
ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 09, 2012--Plans to develop a new convention-center hotel in downtown Houston moved another step forward this week.
Houston First Corp., which owns Hilton Americas-Houston and operates the George R. Brown Convention Center and other city-backed buildings, released a document seeking qualifications and proposals from developers and designers who could build, own and operate a hotel with at least 1,000 rooms and a parking garage on land near the convention center.
Houston First, formed by last year's merger of the Houston Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department and the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corp., controls a 6.7-acre site adjacent to the northern end of the convention center. The area is large enough to incorporate other uses beyond a hotel, so developers are encouraged to propose commercial and residential projects there as well.
Convention officials have been eager to see a second large hotel in the east end of downtown.
The Hilton Americas-Houston has helped boost convention activity, but more rooms are needed to compete for meeting business, said Houston First chairman Ric Campo.
"You really need a couple thousand more rooms in downtown adjacent to George R. Brown to expand it to the next level," Campo said.
The new hotel, he said, could cost as much as $400 million to build.
The developer would be responsible for financing the project, but Houston First would help it obtain hotel-occupancy and sales-tax rebates from the city and state. Property-tax abatements could also be used.
Any plan involving a public financial contribution would have to be approved by the mayor and City Council.
The project is part of a bigger plan for the area.
Houston First recently released a new master plan that could result in new shops, housing and other attractions, as well as an expansion of the city's convention center.
The qualifications are due April 20 and a team could be chosen this summer. Teams will be evaluated on their experience, financial strength and past performance with privately financed hotels and other real-estate projects, according to the document.
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