HOUSTON – The Chamber of Commerce couldn’t have asked for better weather on this Valentine’s Day.
The sun was shining. Not a cloud in the sky. A temperature near 70 degrees.
It was perfect weather for Marcus Spivey, who took his girlfriend to the basketball court at a park, just a jump shot away from the Toyota Center.
“It’s probably not as green space as Seattle, but you know it's pretty nice,” says the native Houstonian, who remembers what this part of Downtown used to look like. “A lot of the buildings on the east side of downtown was abandoned.”
That was more than 25 years ago, before the City of Houston chose the east edge of downtown as a site for a new Convention Center. The now 853,000-square-foot George Brown Convention complex was the catalyst for more growth, according to Andy Icken, Chief Development Officer for the City of Houston Mayor’s Office.
“The old convention center was a music hall that had seen better days,” says Icken, who has lived in this Texas city for more than three decades.
Icken says city leaders looked at this area, just off Highway 59, and saw potential. It was “abandoned” and “access and mobility were good” with “willing sellers to the land.”
It took years until a new Hilton was built next door to the convention center, but it spawned a flurry of activity.
Baseball’s Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, finished near the Convention Center in 2000. The NBA Rockets moved into the new Toyota Center in 2003. Philanthropists created a 12-acre Discovery Green Park that opened 2008, just outside the convention center.
“The park was a way to glue together all of these pieces,” says Icken.
The MLS Dynamo made a triple play, by opening up the soccer-specific BBVA Compass Center on the other side of Highway 59 just last year. A light rail line is scheduled to open in 2014 and go right between the baseball stadium, convention center and soccer stadium.
Icken claims traffic is not an issue, despite the fact 200,000 people work in Downtown Houston every day.
Houston Assistant Police Chief Mark Eisenman says his department manages traffic with a concept that out of town travelers may not enjoy: one-way streets.
Eisenman says “four to five arterials” are one way in each direction, and when combined with game specific timing of traffic lights, cars and trucks are able to move out of the stadium district.
However, he admits multiple event days and the construction of the light rail line have caused some challenges.
“The traffic is not bad. The games start after people have exited downtown. It’s not bad at all,” says Spivey, back on the basketball court.
Spivey says one can argue about the politics of it all, and whether taxpayer money was well spent, but in the end, he’s happy.