Bob Russell sends a fresh slew of downtown updates, this time checking up on the state of the George R. Brown Convention Center area’s ongoing redo. The structure’s main entrance on Avenida De Las Americas has been getting a major facelift — the supercolumns installed last summer have since turned white, and the glassy facade has stepped outward and dropped a few stripes, in line with the plans released previously by semi-public city branding organization Houston First:
A sign zip-tied onto the fence around the parking lot at 1836 Polk St. is currently announcing an application by FreeRange Concepts to sell mixed drinks at the spot. Up in Dallas, the company operates bar-slash-bowling alley Bowl & Barrel, bar-slash-dogpark Mutts Canine Cantina, restaurant-slash-music-venue The Rustic, and slashless restaurant The General Public. Houston locations of Bowl & Barrel and The General Public are currently under construction in CityCentre.
It’s unclear whether FreeRange has cast the Polk location for a sequel to one of its existing brands, or for something new. The TABC notice is posted on the full-block parking lot bounded by Jackson, Hamilton, and Bell streets just east of 59 and just south of the George R. Brown Convention Center. That block has previously appeared in the convention center’s 2025 Master Plan, as a site of possible future expansion:
A groundbreaking ceremony today is marking the construction start of the new $335 million Marriott Marquis hotel on Walker St. and Crawford next to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, which will face the existing Hilton Americas hotel across Discovery Green. The newly updated rendering shown below confirms that the hotel will be the first institution anywhere to sport an island shaped like Texas in one of its lower rooftop pools:
These renderings of the Marriott Marquis show the shapes of things coming — by 2016, according to current plans — to Downtown. Planned for the corner of Walker St. and Avenidas de las Americas, the hotel will stand facade-to-facade across Discovery Green with its older brother, the Hilton-Americas, doubling the number of rooms that serve the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Morris Architects, teamed up with Rida Development, is responsible for the design of this 30-story tower, which will have more than 1,000 guest rooms and exactly one 40,000-sq.-ft. grand ballroom. On the deck atop that ballroom appears to be some fully realized Texas mythology: the state as an island, surrounded by a chlorinated “lazy river.” Guests will tube around it, enjoying what’s more typically considered a Hill Country pastime.
And this is what the hotel is supposed to look like around dusk:
An effort led by former Houston mayor Lee P. Brown to recruit wealthy Chinese investors for a proposed 1000-room East Downtown hotel project on the opposite side of the 59 freeway from the George R. Brown convention center appears to be picking up steam. Brown is listed as chairman of the managing general partner of the project, a company named Global Century Development. Brown and Global Century’s president, Dan Nip, hope to raise money for the $225 million project from investors who want to immigrate to the U.S. through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 Visa program. That program, established as a result of the Immigration Act of 1990, allows foreign nationals to obtain a green card by investing a minimum of $500,000 — and thereby create 10 or more jobs — in qualified areas with high unemployment rates. An East Downtown investment zone identified by Global Century Development in the area bounded by Preston St., the 59 Freeway, I-45, and Dowling is the only area in Houston that qualifies as a “regional center” under the program.
A Powerpoint presentation prepared by Global Century Development that appears to date from last year sites the proposed hotel on three adjacent blocks near Saint Emanuel and Polk St. But a report in today’s Houston Business Journal by Jennifer Dawson indicates plans for the East Downtown hotel are focused on only 2 of those blocks, which Nip controls: They’re bounded by Polk, Saint Emanuel, Bell, and Chartres. Dawson reports that a pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel to the convention center across the freeway is being planned, but a schematic drawing of a bridge featured in the presentation appears to show it only crossing Chartres St., requiring pedestrians to cross under the freeway: