Houston Mayor John Whitmire Wary of Convention Center Deal

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


Houston Mayor John Whitmire is wary of a proposed downtown development initiated by his predecessor, Sylvester Turner, and local firm Lovett Commercial.

Whitmire’s administration is reviewing the deal for a planned 21,000-square-foot convention center and a hotel with up to 200 rooms at 401 Franklin Street, the Houston Chronicle reported. The site is near Post Houston, the former postal facility that’s now an entertainment complex.

While the project’s estimated cost has not been determined, the city would help finance it and assume ownership under an agreement proposed by the Turner administration. 

The convention center would be leased to Houston First, which is the city’s independent convention and visitors bureau. Lovett Commercial would have an option to purchase the convention center at its market value after 10 years, excluding specific costs and benefits conferred to the city.

Whitmire delayed a scheduled vote on that deal, which would give state tax rebates to the hotel for a decade. 

The deal structure could be in conflict with Senate Bill 1057, legislation Whitmire championed during his tenure as a state senator. This legislation enables Houston First to amass incremental state occupancy tax hikes from downtown hotels, projecting a substantial $1.8 billion influx over 30 years to fund renovations to the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“The concern is it sets a terrible precedent. Because I can only imagine what other operators are thinking,” Whitmire told the outlet. “Number two, it really jeopardizes the legislation I passed to create an entertainment district in central Houston.” 

Residents attending a recent council meeting voiced apprehensions about insufficient project details and its potential economic ramifications. East downtown resident Amber Boyd-Cora emphasized the need for greater transparency. 

Al Kashani, a real estate developer linked to the proposed W Hotel downtown, advocated for broader hotel eligibility for tax incentives.

Mario Castillo, a District H council member who represents the area of the proposed project, voiced reservations about potential conflicts between the proposed tax rebates and SB 1057. Yet, Castillo highlighted the potential benefits of building the smaller convention center.

“Some conventions don’t consider the George R. Brown Convention Center because of the size and cost of putting on a convention there,” Castillo said. “This is meant to tap into a market of conventions that may not otherwise come to downtown.” 

—Quinn Donoghue 

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