News: Texas travel industry briefs
San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and City Council officially approved a $325 million expansion project for the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
The design-build contract, awarded to the Hunt/Zachry Joint Venture team, will include 280,000 square feet of new exhibit space, a new 55,000 square feet ballroom (the largest in Texas), continuous exhibit halls (taking it into the top 10 with prime contiguous exhibit space in the nation), new exhibit halls and entrance, expansion and renovation of food service facilities, more uniform meeting space; and modernization of the facility to meet the market's growing needs. All will be accomplished while the convention center remains operational.
"Our city leadership supports the hospitality industry and understands that strong infrastructure along with San Antonio's distinct visitor experience are what make us one of the top convention destinations in the nation" says SACVB Executive Director, Casandra Matej. "This project will allow us to offer convention clients a flexible, state-of-the-art facility built to meet their needs. It's completion in 2016 will only enhance San Antonio's already strong economy and provide benefits to all groups meeting in San Antonio, no matter the size," adds Matej.
Astrodome’s fate in question
Houston’s iconic Astrodome fate is in question after voters, on Nov. 5, rejected a referendum that would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to turn the Dome into a giant convention and event center. While demolition was initially considered the only other possibility, a new proposal to have it designated as an historical landmark is now being considered by Houston’s historical commission.
When it opened in 1965, the Astrodome – then home to MLB's Houston Astros and the NFL's Houston Oilers - was a technological marvel, and the first domed and air-conditioned stadium. It was spacious enough to fit an 18-story building under its 208-foot high roof. It also hosted the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, concerts and high-profile events like the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. Though once dubbed the “Eight Wonder of the World,” the stadium has fallen into disrepair, and hasn’t been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to events since 2009. In the meantime, bigger and newer stadiums grabbed the spotlight.
The failed referendum touted a “New Dome Experience” featuring the creation of 350,000 square feet of exhibition space, 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure.
"We can't allow the once-proud Astrodome to sit like a rusting ship in the middle of a parking lot. This was the best effort (to revamp the stadium), and voters have turned it down," says Harris County Judge Ed Emmett after the amendment’s defeat. He says, though, that there is no set deadline to determine the Astrodome’s fate and points out that it currently costs the city $2 million a year to insure and maintain the dome, while demolition would cost $20 million.
"Because it sat vacant for many years, there's been a lack of passion for it," says Beth Wiedower, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
She says efforts to promote the amendment has reinvigorated passion for the Astrodome, but “it just wasn’t enough.”
Even though the building is owned by Harris County, Maverick Welsh, chairman of the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission, says more voters within the Houston city limits were in favor of restoring the property as a convention center and exhibit space.
Welsh introduced the landmark status motion at historical commission meeting and says, “I think it was the right thing to do. We have to focus on saving this building. It’s the only thing we can do as a commission to try and raise attention of saving the dome,” Welsh said.
If the commission decides to move forward, City Council would have final say on the historic designation.
Dealey Plaza Set for National Spotlight of JFK events
In preparation for the 50th anniversary and memorial ceremony of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, set for Nov. 22, the City of Dallas will be opening its doors and welcoming thousands of visitors, as well as several former Presidents, to the hallowed grounds of a now renovated Dealey Plaza.
Following a yearlong effort to restore and renovate the historic landmark by Dallas architects Good Fulton and Farrell and landscape architects Studio Outside, Dealey Plaza is now ready for its day in the national spotlight.
Renovations to Dealey Plaza were completed this summer, but began 10 years ago in preparation for the 40th anniversary in 2003. Minor repairs were completed and fountains were revamped, but budget restraints prevented further renovation efforts until this past year.
“Dealey Plaza is one of the most visited locations in the city, and the anniversary will bring even more public and media attention. With so many eyes on the efforts here, it was important to work within the standards for historic restoration set by U.S. Secretary of the Interior and return the site as accurately as possible to its 1963 appearance,” says Good Fulton and Farrell Principal Jon Rollins. He adds that the City of Dallas, Texas Historical Commission and the Sixth Floor Museum all had a voice in the process. “It was a challenging project that demanded a lot of collaboration.”
After viewing hours of historical video footage, photographs and original blueprints, Landscape architects Studio Outside assisted with the overall site plan, landscape and surrounding landscape to bring the public space to its 1963 appearance.
“The biggest challenge was finding an overall solution for the site that is both historically accurate and what is really needed due to the demands and pressures from so many people coming to this space,” says Paul Freeland, Principal at Studio Outside. “Prior to 1963, the site was a simple, civic green space, and more of a visual monument than a functioning park. Now, 50 years later, after millions of visitors have walked through it, we had to rethink how the site would be used going forward, while maintaining the fundamental goal which as restoring the site to a snapshot in time.“
For more information about the 50th anniversary, visit www.jfk50.org.
First Cruise Ship sets sail from Bayport Cruise Terminal
After sitting vacant from the time it was built in 2008, the Port of Houston Authority’s Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena finally had its first regularly scheduled cruise ship – from the Princess Cruises line – set sail on Nov. 5
In November 2012, the port secured its first cruise line agreements making Princess Cruises one of two cruise lines scheduled to regularly call the Bayport Terminal. Starting in fall 2014, Norwegian Cruise Line will bring its 2,374-passenger Norwegian Jewel to Houston to sail seven-day Western Caribbean cruises through the 2017 cruise season.
Dave Byerly has been named the new executive director of the Texas Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dave to lead our organization,” said Rebecca Ybarra-Ramirez, TACVB chair. “This hire reinforces our commitment to support and assist in the development of the convention and travel industry through education and the sharing of ideas. Dave’s skill set and experience will enable us to help the industry in new ways and cultivate relations with other travel association leaders.”
In 2005, Byerly assumed the role of president and CEO of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce Arkansas and the Hot Springs Metro Partnership in Arkansas. In 2012, Byerly founded Clear Path Economics, a contract administration specialty firm focused on helping nonprofit associations and organizations design and implement programs and actions that create growth and accomplish organizational objectives.
In recognition of its innovative use of digital media to promote Texas and the wide variety of travel experiences available throughout state, Texas Tourism recently received two W3 Awards for its multi-platform online advertising campaign – the “2013 Gold Award Winner: Integrated Campaign – Tourism” and “2013 Silver Award Winner: General Website Categories – Tourism”.
Launched in February 2013 and developed by Dallas advertising agency Slingshot LLC, the campaign showcases various Texas travel experiences including music, food and the outdoors through various platforms, such as targeted flash banners along with a specialized “Texas Radio” channel on the music site Pandora. Texas Tourism’s website, TravelTex.com, was also revamped, allowing users to explore the state with a customizable digital passport and save their favorite experiences to build and book the ultimate trip directly on the site.
“We are honored to receive two W3 Awards for this campaign and will continue to find new ways to creatively highlight the many travel opportunities that Texas has to offer,” Texas Tourism Brad Smyth said.
Selected by the International Academy of the Visual Arts, the W3 Awards honor creative excellence in the digital field, including websites, mobile applications, online marketing, and digital video production.
Earlier this year the campaign was awarded highest honors at the 34th Annual Telly Awards in the travel/tourism category, winning silver and bronze statuettes for two television spots.
Travel to Texas continues to grow, with more than 2.5 million incremental leisure vacations to Texas. Visits to TravelTex.com have also increased, with more than 3.3 million unique visitors using the site to learn more about the many attractions and experiences available in Texas.
The Texas Historical Commission celebrates its 60th anniversary on Nov. 17, and is using the opportunity to host a historic time-travel sweepstakes that shines the spotlight on its award-winning Texas Heritage Trails Program and its accompanying website, TexasTimeTravel.com.
Texas Historical Commission, which has been preserving the places that tell the real stories of Texas, is giving its Facebook followers a chance to enter a drawing to win a behind-the-scenes with THC heritage tourism trip. The trip entails a guided, four-day, expense-paid trip for two in the Texas Heritage Trail Region of their choice. The itinerary, to be developed by the THC, will showcase historical programs and sites in the chosen region.
“Winners will have the opportunity to explore Texas history from an insider’s perspective, with privately guided tours of historical destinations often off-limits to the public,” says Terry Colley, the THC’s deputy executive director.
Potential attractions include military battlefields, restored county courthouses and towers, historic cemeteries, museum collections, and adobe churches. Lodging will be offered at historic hotels where available, and meals will be provided at restaurants in historic Main Street business districts when possible.
The winner will be randomly selected after the sweepstakes closes on November 17.
The sweepstakes provides a tangible experience based on potential itineraries created through the THC’s TexasTimeTravel.com. The site features in-depth information to explore the state’s historic sites and communities, and offers searches where visitors can learn about Texas history based on their individual interests.
For details on the promotion, visit www.facebook.com/TexasHistoricalCommission.
Mission Reach Now Open
On October 8, the city of San Antonio celebrated the completion of the River Walk’s newest Mission Reach extension, an eight-mile segment that not only connects downtown to the historic Spanish missions, but also reclaims the waterways and restores the river’s ecosystem to its natural state.
The Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project, part of a $358-million expansion project that began in 2007, transforms the extension into a riparian woodland ecosystem that restores river features, reintroduces native plants and enhances aquatic habitat.
The Mission Reach, a southern section of the San Antonio River is of particular historical significance as it links four 18th century missions, the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America. In years since the establishment of these missions almost 300 years ago, this stretch of the river’s original route, beauty and life had been lost. In the 1950s, after years of devastating floods, the Mission Reach was engineered into a trapezoidal storm water channel by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Though it worked well for flood control, the change left this area devoid of native plant life and with a diminished aquatic habitat.
It may take time to be fully realized, but more than 23,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted to reestablish hundreds of acres of native grasses and wildflowers. Eventually, the Mission Reach will be in its full, natural glory with plant life being left to grow as in the wild. This segment will be different from the River Walk’s otherwise manicured state.
“Mission Reach is really nothing like the historic River Walk that everybody's familiar with, with restaurants and hotels lining the river,” says Steven Schauer, manager of external communications at the San Antonio River Authority, one of the partners in SARIP (San Antonio River Improvement Project). “It is first and foremost an ecosystem restoration project, so the experience to the recreational user is one of the more natural South Texas river environments.”
River boat cruises will not be a part of this new segment, but hiking, biking and eventually canoeing and kayaking will set this stretch apart.
The project, which also is expected to inspire the return of many animal species, leads the nation in urban ecosystem restoration. It has caught the attention of other cities from nations around the world who are looking to replicate similar projects.
The Mission Reach extension, which reaches Missions Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano and Espada, follows on the heels of the San Antonio River Walk’s Museum Reach, completed in 2009.
For more information, visit www.sanantonioriver.org/mission_reach/mission_reach.php
Port Aransas Notes Growth in Visitor Impact
The Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce reports that it ended fiscal year 2013 with $3,558,230 in hotel occupancy tax collections, a 12 percent increase from 2012, with December, March, April and September were the biggest months in terms of percentage increase.
The chamber gives credit for the increase to great weather, bustling economy, marketing and advertising programs and continued focus on its strengths, including its natural features.
Those assets were showcased in videos used online and in broadcast, monthly e-blast newsletters promoting activities and events, through increased social media fan base, a new Whooping Crane Festival website which allowed online registration, promotions of its mobile website, and the marketing value of editorial coverage in magazines like Texas Highways and Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Other factors cited for the increase were Reader’s Choice awards from the San Antonio Express and Victoria Advocate newspapers; a first place Texas Festival and Events Association win for its Whooping Crane Festival website and newsletters; and the attraction of events like a large Bridge Tournament and the Geocaching Mega Event.