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Super Bowl

How much will the county get repaid for Super Bowl activities?

Quite possibly not very much, as it turns out.

After the New England Patriots stunned the Atlanta Falcons with a storybook comeback in Super Bowl LI, after the crowds drained away and the national spotlight left Houston, Harris County officials turned to organizers and asked to be repaid for security and around-the-clock support, part of $1.3 million the county spent on America’s biggest sporting event.

The answer, so far: Don’t count on it.

Super Bowl Host Committee officials say they would like to reimburse taxpayers but are not obligated to because the county did not, in its offers of support for the weeklong event, negotiate that it be compensated or repaid by organizers. The city of Houston did and has been repaid $5.5 million by the host committee.

Now, five months after the game, the back-and-forth has some local leaders questioning the costs borne by the county for the game, which was in the county-owned NRG Stadium at no cost to the National Football League, and whether the county will provide similar support in the future.

“It is very shortsighted,” said Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. “There will be future events, future Super Bowls.”

County officials could not say why they did not negotiate a repayment agreement when they decided to support Houston’s bid for the Super Bowl in 2013 – instead offering a resolution of support for the game guaranteeing some assistance at no cost to the NFL. It is unclear if the county asked the host committee for a guarantee of compensation or reimbursement then.

A spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, as far as Emmett was concerned, a resolution like the county passed in 2013 would “never be used again.”

“The judge has now made clear that, before any future Super Bowls or major events like these transpire at a county-owned facility like NRG stadium, that there is going to have to be some type of an agreement where the county receives a share of the revenue from that,” said Joe Stinebaker, Emmett’s spokesman.

The debate over public spending for professional sports has gained steam in recent years as governments find themselves stretched to cover essential services and taxpayers are more aware of their support of multi-million dollar businesses, said Mark Conrad, director of the Sports Business Program at the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University.

Conrad said the NFL “does not have to be nice” and will continue to push for any public support it can get.

“If I would predict, I would think the county is going to be eating the million dollars-plus,” Conrad said.

Keep this in mind the next time someone tries to tell you that the county is better-organized than the city. One can certainly argue that neither the city nor the county should have to enter into such detailed, technicalities-laden negotiations with a multi-billion-dollar private enterprise for payment of these relatively paltry sums. The NFL could just pay for everything up front, or the city and county could just handle it themselves on the grounds that the investment is worth it. But this is the way it is, and the county is at the end of the reimbursement line because they didn’t dot all their I’s. Let that be a lesson going forward.

Super Bowl economic impact was about what we expected

Not too bad.

The receipts are in, and February’s Super Bowl LI appears to have been a substantial boon for Houston — albeit with slightly less spending than expected.

Gross spending during the nine days of Super Bowl programming, minus the amount of usual tourism displaced by the event, came to $338 million, according to a consultant retained by the Host Committee. That’s a bit off the $372 million originally projected by the same firm, Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics.

The discrepancy occurred because the costs of goods and services were lower than expected, even though the number of out-of-town visitors was higher than anticipated, at 150,000, according to Rockport Analytics. In particular, visitors spent about half of what was expected on rental cars because of the availability of car-sharing service Uber and special Metro routes.

Host Committee Chairman Ric Campo, the CEO of apartment developer Camden Properties, said that should still be counted as a win for Houston, since it allowed more people to come to the party.

“One of the things that the Host Committee really worked hard on was affordability,” Campo said. “We didn’t want you to have to go to Discovery Green and spend $100 to feed your family.”

The total impact includes $228 million spent on wages and $39 million spent on state and local taxes. Although that number was about $6 million lower than projected, it was more than enough to pay back the state for the $25.4 million the state advanced the Host Committee, with $15 million in proceeds.

[…]

In addition to the financial impact, officials played up the the game’s halo effect for the city’s image, and the benefit of catching the interest of potential customers. Houston First President Mike Waterman said several of the 16 convention organizers he brought down to see the event have committed to bringing conventions to the city.

“We weekly get customers coming to Houston and saying they saw us shine during the Super Bowl, and now they’re interested in booking a meeting here,” Waterman said.

Let’s hope Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t ruin that by forcing a bathroom bill down our throats. The one economic impact estimate I saw before the Super Bowl pegged the haul at $350 million, so it was pretty darned close. I’m glad all these people came to visit, I’m glad they had a good time (and spent some money), and given that we’re preparing a bid for the 2024 Super Bowl, I hope they’ll want to come back. Assuming our leadership doesn’t take the good impression they went away with and turn it into trash.

Tom Brady’s jersey recovered

Our long national nightmare is finally over.

On Monday morning, the NFL and Houston’s police chief reported [Tom Brady’s Super Bowl] jersey was located and will be returned to the Patriots.

Investigators with the Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders Division traced the jersey to Mexico, Chief Art Acevedo tweeted Monday morning, adding that it was recovered with help from the FBI as well as Mexican authorities.

HPD says the Major Offenders Division is “responsible for the investigation of highly specialized and often unique types of criminal activity that fall outside the scope or expertise of other investigative divisions.”

The division has investigators who focus on specific crimes like fugitives, illegal dumping and animal cruelty. It also participated in the FBI’s interagency task forces, including one aimed at major thefts.

The 2017 jersey was found along with Brady’s jersey from the team’s 2015 Super Bowl victory “in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.

At a morning press conference at HPD headquarters, Acevedo said the suspect in the jersey theft “came to the wrong state. You don’t come to Texas when the eyes of the world are upon the state.”

Acevedo said the suspect had legitimate access to the event and was not a ticket holder.

Acevedo said the NFL’s private security was in control of the locker room from which the jersey went missing. He suggested they “check their protocols,” since the 2017 jersey was recovered along with a 2015 game jersey of Brady’s that was apparently also stolen.

He said while the Texas Rangers participated, it was Houston investigators who found an informant who pointed the investigation to Mexico.

Video footage helped investigators and likely will serve as evidence for criminal charges expected from the U.S. attorney’s office, the chief said.

Acevedo said the department devoted a “handful” of investigators from the Major Offenders Division to the case but told them not to “burn the midnight oil.”

“This was not the highest priority of the Houston Police Department,” Acevedo said several times, pointing to a fatal shooting here over the weekend as a more pressing issue.

However, he suggested this resolved the “only blemish” on Houston’s moment in the international spotlight as a Super Bowl host.

See here for the background. Clearly, HPD is so good they were even able to solve a crime no one had known about. Texas Monthly adds some more details.

Implicated in the heist is Mauricio Ortega, a former executive with Honduras newspaper Diario La Prensa, according to Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network. Ortega had press credentials that granted him access to the Patriots locker room, and—stunningly—the search for the jersey (conducted as a joint operation by the FBI, the Patriots’ security team, the Houston Police Department, and the NFL) turned up not just Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey, but also his Super Bowl 49 jersey, and a Denver Broncos helmet that may have belonged to a player in that team’s victorious appearance in Super Bowl 50.

Curiously, the existence of a stolen Super Bowl 49 jersey wasn’t much in the news despite claims that Brady brought it up in interviews following the theft (if he did, we haven’t seen them). It also raises questions about other jerseys worn by other players in the big game. It’s possible that Ortega, or whoever is ultimately found responsible for the theft, is just a massive Tom Brady fan who targets the quarterback exclusively. But it’s also possible that other players have lost their jerseys, helmets, or other memorabilia and simply not spoken up about it.

Who knew? Thanks to HPD for the good work, and please send the bill for any overtime used to NFL Security, which needs to step up its game. Deadspin, Pro Football Talk, Yahoo News, the Trib, and the Press have more.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?

Again, there is no such thing as an acceptable bathroom bill

The current strategy for Dan Patrick in trying to round up support for, or at least blunt opposition to, his bathroom bill is to claim that it will contain exceptions for sports venues, so no one needs to worry about boycotts or other bad things. Unfortunately for Dan, no one is buying it, and the actual lived experience of North Carolina remains the prime piece of evidence why.

But in the shadow of the millions of dollars in lost tourism-related revenue in North Carolina, opponents of the Texas bill warn that perception trumps specifics when it comes to business and that the exemption may not prevent Texas from feeling the economic repercussions that riddled the Tar Heel State.

“We have discussed that with our meeting planners and sports organizers — they don’t care about the nuances,” said Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones, whose group is among a coalition of Texas tourism bureaus and commerce chambers organizing in opposition to SB 6. “Perception is reality, and if there’s a perception that there’s a discrimination taking place in Texas that’s sanctioned by the state as a result of this bill, they will bypass Texas.”

SB 6 would restrict bathroom and locker room use in public schools and government buildings to be based on “biological sex,” and it would override portions of local anti-discrimination ordinances meant to provide transgender Texans protections from discrimination in public bathrooms and other facilities.

But while the bill would require government entities to set bathroom policies for other public buildings, such entities that oversee publicly owned venues would have no say in the bathroom policies in place while sports leagues like the NCAA hold championship games at a stadium or during a performer’s concert at an arena.

[…]

Officials in North Carolina used a similar argument to defend their bathroom law, but it still cost the state millions in cancellations: The NBA moved an All-Star Game from Charlotte, costing the city $100 million in profits. The city estimated it lost another $30 million when the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled its football championship. Businesses scrapped expansions in the state, and performers canceled concerts. And the NCAA relocated seven championship games from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year.

In light of those cancellations, business and tourism officials in Texas say they are bracing for similar fallout, arguing that the stadium and convention center exemption probably won’t be enough to keep business from leaving the state.

“The really consistent message we get back is: Don’t count on it saving you,” Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said of feedback her group has received about the exemption from tourism officials in other states where similar legislation has been passed. Her nonprofit was recently set up to promote Texas businesses as LGBT friendly.

Associations holding conventions in Texas are already “expressing concern” over the legislation, tourism officials say. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has reached out to Patrick regarding the legislation, Patrick’s staff confirmed. And the Texas Association of Business, which represents hundreds of businesses and regularly sides with conservatives, is also opposed to the legislation, in part over concerns about it affecting the state’s ability to obtain business investments and recruit top talent to the state.

See here for some background. Jerry Jones is just another low level NFL adviser, so we don’t need to worry about what he has to say. Whatever you think about the NFL’s recent words, the fact remains that the NBA and the NCAA have shown with their actions and not just their words what they think of North Carolina’s bathroom bill, and if that state’s Republican-controlled legislature fails to repeal that law by the end of the month, they risk another demonstration of said opinion. There’s not enough lipstick in the entire Mary Kay collection for this porker. The only sensible thing to do is to leave SB6 in a back room somewhere, never to be seen again.

Abbott shakes fist at NFL

Seriously?

Gov. Greg Abbott is blasting the NFL for raising the prospect that Texas’ so-called “bathroom bill” could impact future events in the state — wading into a debate he has so far mostly steered clear of.

“The NFL is walking on thin ice right here,” Abbott told conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Tuesday. “The NFL needs to concentrate on playing football and get the heck out of politics.”

[…]

“For some low-level NFL adviser to come out and say that they are going to micromanage and try to dictate to the state of Texas what types of policies we’re going to pass in our state, that’s unacceptable,” Abbott told Beck. “We don’t care what the NFL thinks and certainly what their political policies are because they are not a political arm of the state of Texas or the United States of America. They need to learn their place in the United States, which is to govern football, not politics.”

[…]

In the Beck interview, Abbott also railed against NFL players who protested racial oppression last year by sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem. The protests began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“I cannot name or even count the number of Texans who told me that they were not watching the NFL,” Abbott said. “They were protesting the NFL this year because of the gross political statement allowed to be made by the NFL by allowing these players, who are not oppressed, who are now almost like snowflake little politicians themselves unable to take the United States National Anthem being played.”

See here for the background. The “low-level NFL adviser” in question is Brian McCarthy, whose LinkedIn profile says he is the “Vice President of Communications at National Football League”. So, clearly some schmo who doesn’t know his rear end from a post pattern. The rest of the story, and the Abbott tweet that preceded it, is roughly what you’d expect from some dude calling into the Glenn Beck show. I gather Abbott would not approve of that “rap music” the players listen to either, or those baggy jeans the kids are wearing these days. Does he not have anything better to do with his time?

One more thing: Awhile ago I wrote that the fight over SB6 between Dan Patrick and the business lobby feels different than previous fights, because of the level of invective and dismissiveness coming from Patrick. I thought about that as I read this story, and it struck me that it suggests to me that Patrick and now Abbott feel threatened in a way that they have not felt before, and in a way that people who hold close to absolute power for their realm should not feel. Why wouldn’t Abbott, if he must respond to what the NFL had to say about a possible future Super Bowl that would likely be at least five if not ten years out in the future, simply say that he’s sure the NFL will come to understand the state’s position once they’ve had a chance to talk it over, or something like that? The bluster, based on a hypothetical that is contingent on a bill that hasn’t had a committee hearing and may not have the votes to pass, plus the gratuitous insults, is astonishing, and not at all what one would expect from a powerful politician who is confident in his position. I get the sense that maybe, just maybe, these guys sense that – partisan composition of the state’s government aside – they’re not in the majority, or even the mainstream, of some things that they used to be, and they just don’t understand why. I don’t know what that means in practical terms, but it sure is fascinating to watch.

Houston’s tourism business

People like to spend money here. In particular, people from Mexico like to spend money here.

Mexicans are the largest group of international tourists who visit Houston – and recently, their numbers have grown. In 2015, Houston received 2.5 million international tourists, 1.8 million of whom came from Mexico.

In 2016, the convention and visitors bureau launched a campaign, “Hola Houston,” to promote the city as a cultural and culinary destination.

“We aimed to increase the number of Mexican tourists to 2 million by 2018,” said Jorge Franz, the bureau’s vice president for tourism, “but we are already well beyond that mark for the year 2016.”

Mexican tourists also spend the most money of all Houston’s visitors. In 2015, on an average two-night trip, each spent an average of $1,253.

Franz said that Mexican tourists love shopping in the Galleria and at the area’s suburban outlet stores.

Many also visit the less- crowded luxury boutiques and designer shops of the upscale River Oaks District shopping complex. Mexican shoppers “typically go after the luxury brands,” says Jennifer Rivera, marketing manager for the River Oaks District. “They are big shoppers of Dolce & Gabbana, big shoppers of Hermés, and huge shoppers of Canali and Dior.”

According to the story, some twenty thousand Mexican nationals were in Houston for the Super Bowl. The story doesn’t give a cumulative annual number for the revenue the city and the greater region derive from all this, but between hotel taxes, rental car taxes, sales taxes, and just a whole lot of stuff being bought, I think we can assume it’s a decent chunk of change. Now ask yourself, what would the effect be if all this activity were to be dramatically scaled back, due to some combination of further restrictions on immigration and the well-heeled travelers of Mexico deciding they just don’t need this crap, as some of them featured in the story say is the case for them? It would not be good. If that happens, you can thank Dear Leader Trump and the people like Dan Patrick (are you paying attention, Texas Association of Business?) who enable him.

Super Bowl or bathroom bill?

Choose one or the other.

Texas’ next trip to the Super Bowl may hit a roadblock in Austin, where conservative lawmakers are pushing a bill to ban transgender people from the public bathrooms they feel most comfortable using.

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law (in Texas), that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email response to a Chronicle question about the bill.

It was the league’s first statement on the matter since the legislation was introduced in January.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” McCarthy added. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events, and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

[…]

The NCAA did not directly address the situation in Texas when pressed, but a spokesman noted the precedent it set in North Carolina.

The NBA, likewise, said it considers “a wide range of factors” in determining where to host events like the All-Star Game. “Foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally,” spokesman Mike Bass said in an email.

[…]

The NFL arguably represents the biggest threat. Houston’s NRG Stadium had barely emptied from last Sunday’s Super Bowl LI fans before civic boosters started talking about the next time the city would host the big game.

Former league official Frank Supovitz was quick to remind that the NFL in 1991 rescinded its offer to let the Phoenix area host a Super Bowl after Arizona legislators failed to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday.

The state policy was changed in 1992, and the 1996 Super Bowl was played in Arizona.

The NCAA has already moved championship events out of North Carolina, while sounding a very loud warning about future events. The NBA moved the All Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. You can make what you want of the NFL’s statements, but they sure look pretty clear to me. Meanwhile, Dan Patrick is over there swearing that nothing bad will happen if SB6 passes. Who ya gonna believe?

Also, too.

A coalition of faith leaders, including several reverends and a rabbi, offered a similar message Thursday at a press conference at First United Methodist Church near the Capitol, aiming to equate the “bathroom bill” and additional anti-LGBT measures filed this session to discriminatory acts that run contrary to their religions’ values.

“Today, there is a systematic effort underway to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in this state,” said Taylor Fuerst, a pastor at First United Methodist Church. “When such an injustice is done in the name of religion … faith leaders and people of faith cannot be silent. Our faith, our god calls us to stand up and speak out, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Fuerst also drew a parallel to the HERO debate and the current one over SB 6.

“They found what worked in Houston was to galvanize a certain branch of the faith community behind defeating [HERO] by using fear,” Fuerst said. “Those who are working for the passage of SB 6 and similar legislation found that approach worked and said, ‘Hey, we can use that.'”

The religious community had already entered the picture earlier this week, when Episcopal Church leaders suggested they could pull their triennial General Convention from Austin next year. In a letter Monday to House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has expressed deep reservations about SB 6, the leaders wrote they are “firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent.”

So that’s the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, the American Society of Association Executives (see the Chron story), the American College Personnel Association, the Episcopal Church, and who knows who else. (Actually, Texas Competes is tracking this sort of thing – see their spreadsheet for the details.) Anyone lining up to say they won’t come to Texas unless we do pass SB6? I didn’t think so. The Trib has more.

Your Super Bowl AirBnB dream probably did not come true

Alas.

Vacation rental websites like Airbnb and Home Away still have pages of listings available for this weekend. Many are asking well over $1,000 per night for, in some cases, run-of-the-mill two-bedroom apartments.

Data from Airbnb Thursday show the typical price of booked listings in Houston for the Super Bowl is $150 per night. Listings within a 5-mile radius of NRG Stadium get a slight premium: $200 per night.

The most popular Houston neighborhoods for guest arrivals included Montrose, the Medical Center area and the Greater Heights.

See here and here for the background. That story was from Thursday, so I suppose it was still possible for some desperate last-minute renters to come in and sweep up those unclaimed listings at the listed rates. I kind of doubt it, though. Turns out, unless you have a particular kind of high-end property to rent out – and a particular kind of high-end renter looking for that kind of property – AirBnB is going to be the cheap alternative to a hotel, not the expensive alternative. Maybe next time, y’all.

Nancy Drew – I mean, Dan Patrick – and the case of the missing jersey

Seriously?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked the Texas Rangers and Houston Police Department to team up in finding New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s football jersey, which was stolen Sunday night after the Super Bowl, according to an emailed news release.

“In Texas we place a very high value on hospitality and football,” Patrick wrote. “Tom Brady’s jersey has great historical value and is already being called ‘the most valuable NFL collectable ever.’ It will likely go into the Hall of Fame one day. It is important that history does not record that it was stolen in Texas.”

According to the news release, Brady’s jersey was stolen from the Patriots’ locker room at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, 34-28.

“I’m a Texans and Cowboys fan first, but the unquestionable success of the Super Bowl in Houston last night was a big win for our entire state, and I don’t want anything to mar that victory,” Patrick said. “Whoever took this jersey should turn it in. The Texas Rangers are on the trail.”

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, of which the Rangers are a division, confirmed Monday afternoon that DPS has offered assistance to the Houston Police department but did not specify what that assistance entails. The Houston Police Department directed all inquiries to NFL security.

Putting aside the weaselness of claiming to be both a Texans fan and a Cowboys fan (*), don’t the Rangers have anything better to do? Even by the standards of self-aggrandizing political stunts, this is pretty egregious. Give it a rest, dude. Texas Monthly has more.

(*) I recognize that this is a thing politicians do – believe me, I’m from New York City, where Yankees/Mets and Giants/Jets and to a lesser extent Rangers/Islanders is a big deal. (**) I get it, I really do. I’ve just always believed as a sports fan that most of use have way more respect for people who stay true to their teams than we do to the panderers. Everyone knew President Obama was a White Sox fan. Even Rudy Giuliana never pretended to have an affinity for the Mets. You’d think Dan Patrick of all people would have no trouble choosing a side.

(**) The Nets were still in New Jersey when I was growing up, so Knicks/Nets wasn’t a thing. The Nets are in Brooklyn now, but it’s still not a thing.

Welcome to Houston, y’all

Lots of visitors in town this week. Our goal is for them to leave with a positive impression.

With the city’s third Super Bowl a week away, Houston appears ready for its close- up.

The national press has taken turns lauding America’s fourth-largest city as a burgeoning 21st century cosmopolis. No longer is Houston dismissed as a frumpy, misbegotten oil town lacking class or curb appeal.

Mayor Sylvester Turner predicts a big revelation for those unfamiliar with the city’s evolution.

“They’ll be surprised with the parks, the green space, the museums, the amount of attention that we give to the arts,” Turner said. “They’ll be surprised by how downtown, for example, has been transformed. I think they’re going to be really blown away by the 10,000-plus restaurants and everything that we have to offer in this city.”

For someone who spends most of his days dealing with problems, Turner clearly loves the opportunity to play booster-in-chief. For so long, Houston has had to take it on the chin, slapped with one insult after another for all the things it is not. This week, he plays offense.

“Most people assume that we are a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, oil-and-gas town,” Turner said. “We are that, and so much more.”

It feels kind of perverse to be talking about this stuff when there’s so much to be outraged about, but Houston will be around a lot longer than Dear Leader will, and the Super Bowl really is a unique opportunity for a city to market itself. And if one of the impressions that our visitors come away with is that we as a city care about social justice, well, that’s a fine thing. So let’s show our guests all the ways that Houston shines.

Astrodome gains antiquities status

Nice.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

The aging behemoth billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World has joined the revered ranks of the Alamo and State Capitol as an honored historical site.

Just days before a crowd of more than 70,000 files past for Super Bowl LI in neighboring NRG Stadium, the long-vacant Astrodome has won the coveted designation as a state antiquities landmark.

The distinction – which has been awarded to the Alamo, the Capitol and the Cotton Bowl, among others – brings special protection against demolition for the nation’s first fully enclosed, domed sports stadium.

But it won’t hinder the $105 million plan to renovate the once-proud facility, which has been officially closed to the public since 2009, officials said.

“It is an iconic structure,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has long championed the venue. “The Astrodome literally changed the world of sports and entertainment and it helped put Houston and Harris County on the global scene.”

The Texas Historical Commission voted unanimously Friday to grant antiquities status, which had been sought for nearly three years by two Houston-area residents who hoped to preserve the facility.

“I was jumping up and down and running around my house telling my husband and everybody when I saw it on Twitter,” said Cynthia Neely, a writer and film producer who along with former Exxon engineer Ted Powell of La Porte filed the voluminous application, paid the fee and lobbied around the state to save the dome.

“It was a total surprise,” she said. “We’re just your average citizens.”

[…]

The designation will mean the dome cannot be “removed, altered, damaged, salvaged or excavated” without first obtaining permission from the commission, officials have said.

This process got started back in 2014, though it’s been in limbo since then as well. I’m not sure what the practical effect of this designation is since there are no current discussions about demolishing the Dome, but if that does ever come up again, it will be a lot harder to do. In the meantime, the parking lot plan moves forward, presumably with the blessing of the Historical Commission, and the Dome will play a minor part during the Super Bowl. So at least there’s one nice thing happening in the world. Swamplot and Houstonia have more.

Now is the time to rent out your house

If it was your plan to do that, anyway.

The teams playing in next month’s Super Bowl [are now set] and the final rush for last-minute lodging will be in full swing.

That also means more house and apartment rentals will hit websites like Airbnb, VRBO and Austin-based HomeAway, which says demand for Houston-area vacation rentals has shot up by more than 1,300 percent. Rates for homes near NRG Stadium are averaging $2,000 per night.

HomeAway listings include an array of properties, from a “mini yacht” docked in Kemah for $375 per night to a three-bedroom traditional in West University with a pool for $4,600.

Local listings on Airbnb have also shot up, increasing 50 percent from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1 to 5,700 listings.

On HomeAway, there are 637 properties listed and as of Thursday, 84 percent were booked.

See here for the background. Looking at the chart at the end of the story, there are a lot of my Heights neighbors renting out their houses, with even more folks in Montrose doing so. Hope the money’s worth the trouble.

The Super Bowl economic impact calculators have figured out it’s all a game

They’ve adjusted their methods in anticipation of your criticisms.

With less than a month to go before the big day, let no one say that Super Bowl LI — as an economic event, not a football game — has been inadequately forecast.

We’ve already seen two studies on the financial boost that the two-week extravaganza is expected to provide to the Houston area: One from a consulting firm hired to figure out how much hospitality tax revenue the state should provide in advance, and another from a local bank. They ranged pretty widely in their predictions and definitions, making it difficult to know what benefits to expect.

Now comes another study from the Host Committee, this one designed to capture the new money that will flow to Houston as a result of the game and all the programming around it. The headline: The city will net $350 million from the whole affair, which appears to be in the middle of the range of windfalls from Super Bowls past.

Aware of the skepticism surrounding previous in-house analyses, the consulting firm that performed it — Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics — emphasizes that it doesn’t count anything that shouldn’t be counted. “One of the reasons why we tend to be hired by events like this is that we produce conservative estimates,” says managing director Kenneth McGill.

As such, the firm took the overall expected amount of Super Bowl spending — based on a budget provided by the Host Committee and data from past Super Bowls — and subtracted out both the typical amount of tourism the city sees during this time of year and the spending that’s likely to leak out to other states and cities. It included the amount the city would be spending on the event, about $5.5 million, as a net gain; city officials have said the Host Committee will reimburse all of those costs.

That got them down from from $450 million to the ultimate $350 million, which is slightly more than the $338 million that Rockport is forecasting for next year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis — a number that has already come under fire from independent sports finance experts — and the $277.9 million it determined that Indianapolis reaped from hosting the event in 2012.

I don’t really have a point to make, I’m just always entertained by these economic impact estimates. It would be nice if we were systematic about comparing the post-event data to the pre-event projections, so that we could make better projections in the future, but we don’t, and I’m not even sure we could. So take these as I do as mostly for entertainment value, and it’s all good.

Who wants to rent their house out to Super Bowl visitors?

I don’t, but some people hope to make a lot of money renting theirs.

With the Super Bowl heading to Houston next month, locals are starting to see dollar signs as well, hoping to cash in on visitors’ willingness to pay thousands to rent their homes or apartments during the biggest football game of the year.

While Beyonce isn’t likely to hit up Airbnb this year – she’s hails from Houston, after all – plenty of other celebrities will need places to stay. So will countless corporate executives with sky-high lodging budgets, and, of course, all the others simply unable to get a hotel room in town.

Exactly how many takers, and how much they’re willing to spend, will become clearer after the participating teams have been determined. In the meantime, a couple of thousand hopeful Houstonians already are checking their emails waiting for the alert that shows their place has been booked during the game.

“My hope is the market is going to get really tight for premium properties,” said Michael Salinas, a CPA who’s listing his three-bedroom townhouse in Montrose for $3,699 a night during Super Bowl LI.

Local listings on the popular Airbnb rental website have increased 40 percent in just the last two months, the company said.

The city expects about 140,000 out of town guests and there are roughly 84,000 hotel rooms in the metro area, according to A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the city’s tourism bureau.

“We believe most properties will be full but there are a lot of factors that play in, including who ends up in the game and how far their fans will travel for the experience,” Mistretta said in an email.

Chris Bisel is listing his four-bedroom Meyerland home for $5,500 per night. With that, Bisel is offering free chauffeur service in his GMC Yukon XL Denali. He hasn’t had any takers yet.

“Frankly, we put it up there at sort of a crazy price just to see what would happen. If we rent the place out for five or six nights, we clear 25 or 30 grand,” he said, enough to pay for the first year of college for his daughter, a high school senior.

[…]

As of Jan. 1, Houston had about 5,700 listings on Airbnb, according to the company’s most recent data, up from about 4,100 listings at the beginning of November.

During Super Bowl weekend last year, Airbnb guests stayed in more than 4,000 listings in the Bay Area, said Laura Spanjian, public policy director for the San Francisco-based company. The average rate was $225 per night.

“There are some very expensive listings, but there are also some very affordable ones,” Spanjian said.

Yes, that’s the same Laura Spanjian who had been the city’s Sustainability Director under Mayor Parker. The wide disparity between what some AirBnB listers in Houston are asking and what people actually got on average in San Francisco makes me think the folks here are dreaming a little too hard, but I guess you never know. Maybe San Francisco had more hotel space available, and maybe fewer people made the kind of last-minute arrangements that can lead to premium prices being charged. I do know people in Austin who have made a bundle renting out their places during SxSW, so it is possible. It’s not practical for me and my family at this time, but if it works for you, go for it. Just avoid renting to Johnny Manziell and you should be fine.

Super Bowl security

There will be a lot. You may or may not get to hear about it.

When an expected 1  million people descend on Houston for 10 days of Super Bowl concerts, contests and championship football, they will be protected – and watched – by a security operation built on secrecy, technology and the combined efforts of dozens of agencies.

Unlike in recent Super Bowls, however, the public here won’t likely see lines of officers with fatigues, military-style rifles and armored vehicles.

The message for visitors? Relax and enjoy the fun.

“We don’t think we need to display a heavy militaristic presence to provide a safe environment,” said Executive Assistant Houston Police Chief George Buenik, who heads the event’s public safety committee. “We are keeping it a lower visible presence, meaning we are not going to be displaying all of our resources and assets, just like we are not getting into numbers or specifics. A lot of our security plan is what we consider confidential.”

[…]

The hype, media attention, massive crowds and more than 100 million expected television viewers make for an over-the-top party but also offer a unique challenge for law enforcement.

Keeping such events safe has grown even more complex in recent years, with the proliferation of terrorist attacks and new technology and social media that can connect or inspire like-minded persons.

The Houston events will be spread out across the city, from the football game at NRG Stadium to live concerts, fan festivals and other events at Discovery Green and the George R. Brown Convention Center 13 miles away.

Lakewood Church – which sits between the two sites in a former indoor sports arena near Greenway Plaza – will host an NFL Gospel Celebration.

Law enforcement agencies have been preparing for the events since not long after Houston was selected in May 2013 to host the big game.

Delegations have been sent to the last three Super Bowls to learn and figure out what might be done differently in the Bayou City. Houston has experience with big crowds, having previously hosted the Super Bowl in 1974 and 2004 and other big events.

The city is expected to spend about $5.5 million, mostly for security, but that is expected to be reimbursed by the game’s host committee.

The federal government also is covering some security costs, with the FBI; Homeland Security; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies participating, though those details are – not surprisingly – not available.

Local preparations have included combing through NRG Stadium and other Super Bowl-related venues and installing additional surveillance cameras in key areas, but authorities decline to reveal exactly what they are doing.

NRG Stadium will be surrounded by a special zone, where police will control foot traffic and commercial vendors. And the nearby Astrodome – which originally had been considered for special events – will remain shuttered.

Flight restrictions will be in place for certain aircraft, and a “No Drone Zone” is expected to be declared, as it has for previous Super Bowls.

And local law enforcement officers are racking their brains to think of new threats they might have missed. Representatives of various local, state and federal entities gathered in recent days in a conference room at NRG Stadium to think up new scenarios and how they would respond.

I don’t remember what the number of visitors for Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 was. I do remember that the number far exceeded the total number of seats available in Reliant Stadium, enough to make me wonder what these people were traveling for, if they couldn’t see the actual game. What I’m getting at is that I don’t know if that “one million people descending on Houston” estimate is realistic or not, but based on past history it is a lot higher than you might think. Regardless, I’m sure we’re all relieved to know that the city will be reimbursed for its police and other Super Bowl security-related expenditures. My general advice to avoid the area at all costs unless you really have to or really want to remains in effect.

Council approves Uber deal

I’d forgotten about this.

Uber

Uber will remain operating in Houston at least through the Super Bowl, after City Council approved changes to the city’s paid ride rules ironed out between the popular ride-hailing service and Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Council members, after a sometimes contentious discussion on Wednesday, approved the revised city rules for taxis, so-called transportation network companies like Uber and limo providers. The changes – which keep Houston’s fingerprint check for drivers in place but eliminates other requirements to operate here such as a mandatory drug test and physical – came after Uber indicated it would leave rather than cooperate with many of the rules.

[…]

City officials said the changes do not compromise passenger safety, while giving Uber and taxi companies more latitude to quickly and easily enroll drivers. When Uber and other companies that connect riders and drivers via smartphone app hit the road in Houston in early 2014, city officials opted to keep many of the same requirements in place that had existed for taxi drivers. After more than two years of study, the city thinks it can roll back some of the unnecessary rules, said Tina Paez, director of the city’s regulatory affairs department.

“We are not going to be everyone’s (human resources) department anymore,” Paez said, referring to redundancies in the company’s background check and the city’s requirements.

See here for the background. This will keep Uber in town through February 5, after which they may or may not finally follow through on that threat to take their app and go home. Or they may wait and see if the Lege takes care of their longstanding complaints about Houston’s and other cities’ regulatory structure. Be that as it may, they’re here for now, so ride ’em if you got ’em.

The Complete Transportation Guide To Super Bowl LI

For which the tl;dr version is don’t drive in or near downtown if you can at all help it.

More than 1 million people are expected to converge on downtown Houston during the week leading up to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, officials emphasized Tuesday as a transportation guide for the festivities was unveiled for visitors and locals alike.

[…]

The transportation guide – part of a #KnowBeforeYouGo social media campaign – details options for efficient movement around downtown, Midtown, the Uptown-Galleria community and areas surrounding NRG Stadium, the game venue. The manual can be found at www.housuperbowl.com/transportation – which is an area of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee website.

Among new features for 2017:

There will be prepaid downtown daily parking available beginning in January via the committee’s app for motorists to reserve spaces for light rail passes.

Super Bowl Live downtown will feature a bike valet for those who prefer to travel on two wheels.

Free shuttles will circulate in downtown and Midtown; an Uptown-Galleria area link to downtown from Feb. 1 to Feb. 5 is $2 each way.

A game-day shuttle between the Galleria area and NRG Stadium will be $2 each way.

Metro will have extended rail hours from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5 beginning around 4 a.m. and running until at least midnight daily.

Click here for the official guide. My advice, if you work downtown, is to take the week off. I’m already getting a cold sweat thinking about how many tourists I’m going to have to dodge in the tunnels at lunchtime. A staycation is sounding pretty damn good the more I consider it. If you must come downtown, Metro or a bike are your best bets to not be part of the problem. The Press and Write On Metro have more.

No Astrodome laser light show for the Super Bowl

Alas.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Organizers have nixed a proposal to use high-tech lasers to project dazzling images of Houston’s culture and history onto and through the roof of the Astrodome during Super Bowl LI.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the NFL turned down the proposal — the brainchild of two recent Rice University graduates — over security concerns of having people enter and exit the dome around game time.

“We made all the intros and this, that and the other, but it wasn’t a great surprise,” Emmett said. “The NFL once they locked down that whole campus out there, they just don’t want people coming in and out.”

[…]

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had looked into the light show idea “but are now considering lighting the outside of the building for the entire week and on Super Bowl Sunday.”

“We have not finalized plans, but this remains under consideration,” McCarthy said.

Emmett said officials were briefly considering holding a reception in the dome during Super Bowl festivities, but that’s not happening now, either. He said the Dome will mostly be used for storage and staging purposes during the sporting event.

A Super Bowl host committee spokeswoman said “there will be no official events at the Astrodome” during Super Bowl weekend, and said she had no information about how the Astrodome might be used during Super Bowl weekend or why the light show was nixed.

See here for the background. Too bad, this sounded like a fun idea to me, but you know how the NFL is. Maybe some of us can get together before the game, hold up lighters, and sing “Another Brick In The Wall”. It’s the thought that counts.

City reaches deal with Uber

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced a comprehensive strategy to streamline the City’s vehicle-for-hire licensing process to ensure that Uber remains in Houston and that Houstonians and visitors have as many transportation options as possible during the upcoming Super Bowl. As part of the plan, Uber has committed to continuing operations in Houston with the use of fingerprint background checks through the Super Bowl.

“I am thrilled we can finally put this issue to rest and focus on the real task at hand—providing a great Super Bowl experience that shows off our City,” said Mayor Turner. “We’ve crafted a proposal that reduces the length and cost of a driver application but still protects public safety. This is a win for drivers and passengers alike. These changes will help make sure that visitors have a seamless experience during the Super Bowl and Houstonians have diverse transportation options to meet the growing needs of our city.”

As part of the agreement, the City will bring forward process-improvement changes to Chapter 46 of the City Code which regulates vehicles-for-hire such as taxis, limos, and TNCs (transportation network companies such as Uber). The streamlined changes will reduce the costs of licensing from nearly $200 to $70, cut the licensing process in half, and allow drivers to be licensed in under 20 minutes. The City’s policy on background checks will not change. The proposed changes are expected to come before City Council before the New Year.

Mayor Turner also announced the launch of Arro, the City’s official multimodal transportation app, which will help make the City’s fleet of over 9,000 taxi and limo drivers more readily accessible to the general public. Building on Top Taxi, Houston First’s initiative to improve the quality and customer service of Houston’s taxi industry, Arro will help transform the taxi experience in Houston.

“In a city as large and diverse as Houston, taxis and limos will always play a critical role in our transportation strategy,” said Turner. “Arro and Top Taxi will help modernize our taxi industry by making our fleet more efficient and equipping Houstonians with access to multiple forms of transportation at the push of a button.”

While initially offering taxi rides, Arro’s offerings will expand in the coming months to include limos, wheelchair accessible vehicles, and collaborations with other forms of vehicles-for-hire and METRO. Arro is available for download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

“We are very excited to bring Arro’s consumer and driver friendly app to the people of Houston starting today. Arro’s presence is a significant step toward enhancing robust transportation options throughout Houston,” said Mike Epley, founder of Arro. “Our app has already enjoyed great success in several cities by offering a potential boost to drivers’ incomes and providing faster and easier transportation access for passengers. ”

“Houston First recognizes that reliable and safe transportation is essential to the city’s success as a destination,” says Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “That’s why we launched the Top Taxi Program in 2015 to coach our taxicab drivers on delivering a better customer service experience. Now, Mayor Turner is taking it a step further with the implementation of Arro, which we believe will revolutionize the user experience with taxis in Houston. We’re excited to partner with the city on the ongoing Top Taxi program and the rollout of Arro.”

See here for the background on Arro. You may recall that Uber had threatened to leave Houston after the Austin rideshare referendum was voted down, but since those initial rumblings there hasn’t been much from either them or the city. While Council members were not lining up to support Uber in this, there was some concern expressed about the availability of vehicle-for-hire services during the Super Bowl; Arro’s development was in part a hedge against that. This agreement means that those worries can be laid to rest.

The larger fight remains unresolved, however.

The fingerprint check – as opposed to the company’s preferred Social Security number-based check – has been the major disagreement since Houston legitimized the ride providing companies in November 2014.

“Our stance hasn’t changed in any way on fingerprinting,” said Trevor Theunissen, public policy manager for Uber in Texas. “This is a compromise to improve the driver licensing process so we can get through the Super Bowl.”

The deal does not, however, slow efforts by Uber and state lawmakers to develop statewide transportation rules during the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill Monday to create statewide transportation rules for companies like Uber, but keeps taxis regulated at the local level.

Here’s Sen. Schwertner’s statement about the city’s deal with Uber. You know, I’m old enough to remember a time when it was considered “conservative” to value local government over state or federal government, on the grounds that local government was closer to the people and thus more responsive to their needs and accountable to their votes. That just sounds so adorable now. I mean, what could we Houstonians know about our wants and needs compared to a Senator from Williamson County? So until the Legislature crushes it underneath their mighty boots, chalk up another accomplishment for Mayor Turner.

UPDATE: The Press has more.

Does it matter why infrastructure was improved?

I say no, but maybe that’s just me.

In the days leading up to the nation’s biggest sporting event, thousands of visitors will use Broadway to travel from the airport to downtown hotels and other spots. Work on gravel paths, trees and lighting is expected to be done by the end of the year, one of a series of projects across the Houston area aimed at polishing the city’s image.

It’s an effort that Hollinquest, 57, can appreciate. But she can’t help but think about the discolored, sagging second-story walkway in her apartment that isn’t being fixed.

Others living along the street talk about speeding cars putting pedestrians at danger, or the shooting that recently happened a block away from the corridor in daylight. They represent the real problems that will likely remain even after millions of dollars in infrastructure and beautification projects are completed, a juxtaposition that hasn’t gone unnoticed by residents.

“It’s a shame they want to improve stuff just because the Super Bowl is coming,” said Hollinquest.

Such spending raises a question of priorities, said Victor Matheson, a professor at Holly Cross in Worcester, Mass., whose research has questioned the economic impact of events like the Super Bowl.

Matheson acknowledges that the Super Bowl brings in necessary investment to neighborhoods that might not otherwise occur. But it tends to be in areas frequented by tourists.

[…]

The east side of downtown is being transformed with the investment of roughly $300 million in hotel taxes by Houston First, the city’s convention agency. A renovated George R. Brown Convention Center is having its façade opened up with walls of glass offering sweeping views of Discovery Green park and a reinvented Avenida de las Americas below, with the street shrinking from eight lanes to two to better accommodate pedestrians and restaurants boasting sidewalk patios.

The convention center and the adjacent Partnership Tower – a 10-story edifice, also built by Houston First – offer a good view of the new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis and an accompanying parking garage, which benefitted some from hotel tax revenue.

The area around NRG Stadium has also seen significant work. A redevelopment authority for the area around the stadium has raised more than $3 million for road maintenance, new sidewalks, trees, other greenery, new signs and LED street lights.

The city’s public works department is also carrying out $7.7 million in repairs on 3.8 miles of roads around the stadium – chiefly Main, Fannin, Cambridge and Westridge – either by laying fresh asphalt or replacing damaged portions of concrete streets.

I get that areas that are more visible to visitors are being prioritized, and that the areas that are getting worked have mostly needed it for a long time and still need more than what they’re getting. You do have to wonder how long some of this stuff would have been left undone had it not been for the Super Bowl. But in real life stuff gets done only because of some external stimulus all the time. Sometimes events do change priorities. And in this particular case, the cause of the changed priorities was also the source of some of the funding to pay for it. Most of what is being done will last well past the game itself. I say the fact that it all got done is what matters.

Time once again to talk about the Super Bowl and its economic impact

We’re less than 100 days out from Super Bowl LI here in Houston. I don’t know how much people who are not directly involved in the planning and execution of it are thinking about that.

The economic benefits of hosting a Super Bowl and other major events have long been a matter of debate, however. Houston’s host committee has yet to release its impact analysis, but these reports typically estimate that Super Bowls generate economic activity in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Academics who study such events generally find the added activity, with all the costs taken into account, is much smaller.

“I can’t tell you whether there will be a zero net impact or a modest positive one,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College who has long studied the sports industry, “but it’s not going to be large.”

Houston, though, may be better prepared to benefit from the Super Bowl than other cities, for several reasons. First, there isn’t much winter tourism in Houston to displace, as in other Super Bowl cities such as New Orleans and Miami, so the net gain here is much greater. Second, Houston’s hospitality industry needs the business, with new hotels built during the shale boom struggling with lower-than-expected occupancy rates as business travel declined.

Third – and perhaps most important – the city really could use a period of prolonged exposure to show business leaders and the millions watching at home that it’s not just a stodgy oil town like it was in the early 2000s.

[…]

The accounting firm PwC has estimated the economic impact of the Super Bowl since 2003, pegging the game’s value to Houston in 2004 at about $130 million in direct spending. It estimated that the last Super Bowl, number 50, was worth $220 million to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cities have gotten better at making the most of Super Bowl week, said Adam Jones, a PwC analyst. By planning events within a relatively small radius so visitors spend more time on experiences than getting to them, cities can capture greater returns.

Houston has done that, with NFL Live at Discovery Green — a 10-day music and food-filled festival open to the public — only a few minutes from NRG Stadium via light rail or taxi. Additional bus and shuttle lines will be available should guests want to venture to the Galleria as well.

“What we’ve seen within the past five years is communities going out, learning what has worked, what hasn’t worked in cities that preceded them,” Jones said. “We continue to see year over year improvement in the model.”

University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer looked at additional tax revenues generated during the 2004 Super Bowl, about $5 million, and estimated the 2017 edition would bring in an extra $6.6 million in sales taxes for the city plus another $2.2 million in hotel occupancy taxes and $6.8 million for Metro.

Longer-term benefits are harder to measure. The city’s tourism promotion arm, HoustonFirst, said it was able to go after bigger conventions when the Hilton Americas was completed in 2004. That added 1,200 rooms directly connected to the convention center, and the Marriott Marquis will have a similar effect. The city booked a record number of room nights for future conventions in 2015 and expects to break the record again this year, according to HoustonFirst.

We’ve discussed this a few times before. I’m sure that the economic benefit of hosting a Super Bowl is generally overstated, but I do think there is a benefit, and I do think it’s possible that cities have learned from past experiences and academic study to maximize the benefit that is available to them. As the story notes, Houston doesn’t have much tourism trade to displace, but we do have an extensive food-and-drink sector of our economy that will surely enjoy having all these out-of-towners around. The spending that has been done on infrastructure is spending that needed to be done, and which will be a public good long after the Super Bowl people have gone home. In the end, someone will put out a number, and we can make of that what we will. Whatever that number is, I expect the city of Houston will look back on this experience and decide that it was worth it.

The Reliant Stadium area is ready for its closeup

For the Super Bowl, of course. Gotta look pretty, you know.

Currently, the area surrounding NRG Park, which includes NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, is “functional” but hardly an impression-maker for a throng of out-of-town guests, said Ed Wulfe, chairman of the Stadium Park Redevelopment Authority.

“The Super Bowl was the motivating factor the area needs,” he said. “The land around the stadium will be a focal point for the world.”

[…]

The work will focus on McNee Road, between Main and Kirby Drive; along Main, between McNee and Murworth Drive; and near the yellow parking lot on Main.

NRG will provide new branding and way-finding signs at each of the Main Street entrances. Harris County will build a new sidewalk along the south side of McNee with trees, landscaping and fencing. LED lights will be added along McNee and Murworth. TxDOT will add new sidewalks, landscaping and trees to the esplanades.

[…]

TxDOT also has plans to update the South Main corridor with more landscaping using a $310,000 grant from Keep Houston Beautiful. The agency plans to save 31 oak trees from work underway along Post Oak Boulevard and replant them in the area near the stadium.

Construction has begun and the work will continue into January.

Harris County has also been working on street repairs and striping of several streets in the NRG Park area in preparation for the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 5.

(Yes, I know, it’s NRG Park now. Just assume I’m one of those annoying people who still talks about “the Summit” and “Transco Tower”, and move on.)

As the story notes, some of this work was initiated by Commissioner Gene Locke, who took the radical step of spending county money on infrastructure that was also in the city of Houston. I don’t work out that way anymore, so I can’t say what the transformation will look like, but at least as of when I last worked in that area in 2013, there were definitely some streets and sidewalks that needed work. I’m glad to see it happening.

Harris County to fix some Houston roads

Some good news from the inbox:

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

As part of an agreement approved by Houston City Council today, Harris County Precinct 1 will pay for additional street improvements worth millions of dollars within the Houston city limits by year’s end. This is a continuation of an arrangement Mayor Sylvester Turner and outgoing Commissioner Gene Locke negotiated earlier in the year. A total of $45 million of projects are planned.

“Houstonians are more concerned about seeing results than they are about which governmental entity is paying for them,” said Mayor Turner. “This is government working together to meet the needs of our shared constituents. It is city/county cooperation at its best.”

Harris County has already started work on about seven miles of City streets, including work around NRG Stadium in anticipation of Super Bowl 51. City Council’s vote today clears the way for another five plus miles of City streets to be totally reconstructed or overlaid with asphalt by Harris County in the next four months.

The following City street segments were included in today’s council action:

  • Amboy/Wayne from Liberty Road to Quitman
  • Carr Street from Mills to Quitman
  • Hiram Clarke Rd. from Beltway 8 to W. Fuqua
  • Lee Street from Semmes to Jensen
  • Noble Street from Jensen to Semmes
  • Ruth Street from Scott Street to dead-end
  • Scott Street from Elgin to Old Spanish Trail
  • Semmes Street from Lorraine to Campbell
  • Sumpter Street from Semmes to Jensen
  • Waco/Hirsch from I-10 to Clinton Drive

Council’s previous action included:

  • Ardmore from Holcombe to Holly Hall
  • Bellfort from SH 288 to MLK Blvd.
  • Buffalo Speed Way from W. Fuqua to Anderson Road
  • Crosstimbers from IH 45 to Shepherd Drive
  • El Rio from IH 610 to Holly Hall
  • Holly Hall from Fannin to SH 288
  • Homestead Road from Laura Koppe to Parker
  • Knight Road from IH 610 to Fannin
  • McNee from South Main to Kirby
  • Yellowstone from SH 288 to Scott

In order to facilitate this agreement, the City must temporarily transfer these streets to the Harris County Road Log. Once the work is finished, the streets will be transferred back to the City’s jurisdiction for ongoing maintenance.

Here’s the Chron story on this. The second list contains the streets around NRG Stadium. This is the fulfillment of a promise Commissioner Locke made a few months ago, and kudos to him for it. I hope we see more of this from Commissioner Ellis next year and afterward.

Harrisburg overpass nearing completion

Hallelujah.

HoustonMetro

Six months ago, Harrisburg Boulevard looked almost exactly as it has for more than five years, dotted by construction equipment. East of downtown Houston, the thoroughfare was more exposed dirt than street, and showed little sign of the rail overpass transit officials promised eastside residents.

With no span in sight, residents – not to mention many Metro officials – were over it. For months, board members had called the overpass “a nightmare” and “the project that won’t die.”

“We had nothing,” said Glenn Peters, who Metropolitan Transit Authority brought in about that time to get the project literally off the ground. “Now look at it.”

Months late and many frustrating meetings later, crews have made significant progress on a rail and automobile overpass critical to finishing Metro’s Green Line along Harrisburg spanning a set of Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Cars can choose between crossing the freight tracks at grade on a new roadway, or using the overpass.

[…]

Though much work remains on the $31 million project, completion gets closer with every milestone reached. Provided crews hold to current schedules, Metro could begin testing trains and the track in October and start carrying passengers to the Magnolia Park Transit Center by late December or early January. If the line is ready for passengers, it would be in time for Super Bowl LI, which officials said was a priority.

For now, transit officials are just basking in how far they’ve come.

“It was a wonderful sight to stand out and watch the first cars go over that bridge,” said Peters, who Metro brought in as a consultant to coordinate the project.

Peters, a veteran of construction projects dating to his days as a soldier building a bridge in Vietnam, has extensive local construction experience, overseeing projects at the county and state level.

See here for the last update. Getting everything finished in time for the Super Bowl is the main goal at this point, and all signs point to it getting done. I figure there will be some champagne flowing at the Lee Brown building once this is all done.

What will the NBA do with Charlotte?

We are still waiting to see if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will follow through with a threat to move the NBA All-Star Game out of Charlotte after North Carolina passed its odious anti-LGBT law HB2.

RedEquality

Houston’s 2015 defeat of Proposition 1, an anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), could jeopardize future efforts to land NBA All Star events if the league views the Houston laws as similar to the North Carolina law that has the league considering withdrawing the 2017 All Star week from Charlotte.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, while enumerating again the league’s objection to holding its showcase event in Charlotte following the controversial passage of HB2, said Tuesday the NBA has specifically looked at laws in Houston and NBA cities while examining options in Charlotte.

“We’ve been looking closely at the laws in all the jurisdictions in which we play,” Silver said when asked if the league has specifically considered the laws in Houston.

[…]

Silver said in April that the NBA has been “crystal clear” that the league would not hold the All-Star events in Charlotte if the law remains unchanged. No decision about the 2017 game was made at Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting.

“We were frankly hoping they would take some steps toward modifying the legislation and frankly are disappointed that they didn’t,” Silver said. “Coming out of the legislative session, we wanted the opportunity to talk directly to our teams. This is a very core issue for us and we’re trying to be extremely cautious and deliberate in how we go about making the decision. We’re not trying to keep everyone in suspense. We realize we need to make this decision very quickly.”

Yes, they do. There are logistical issues with relocating the All-Star Game, as there would have been with moving the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston, which was a campaign issue during the HERO fight. I never believed the NFL would even consider moving the Super Bowl, as they stayed on the sidelines throughout the campaign and were highly likely to embarrass Bob McNair even if he hadn’t made and then rescinded a contribution to the anti-HERO forces.

The NBA on the other hand has publicly drawn a line in the sand, and now has to decide whether they really meant it or not, whatever the logistical challenges may be. My view as a parent is that if you threaten a consequence for bad behavior and then fail to enforce that consequence, the message you send is that you are tolerating said behavior. They could spin it however they wanted to if they choose to take no action – the logistics were too much to overcome, HB2 wasn’t in effect at the time they awarded the game to Charlotte, etc etc etc – but the message would be clearly understood by all. That includes the Texas Legislature, some of whose members are planning their own version of HB2 and who would have every reason to laugh off statements about future All-Star Games not just in Houston but also in San Antonio and Dallas if nothing happens to Charlotte.

I largely don’t care about the economics of this. One supports HERO and opposes HB2 because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any risk management decisions that some billionaires may be making. Polling data from the HERO campaign suggested that potential economic harm was something that affected people’s view, so it definitely needs to be factored in. If having the NBA All-Star Game yanked out of North Carolina gets people’s attention and makes it even marginally less likely that Texas adopts a similarly harsh and stupid law, it’s all to the good. Mostly, I feel that if the NBA is going to say they are going to do something, they ought to then go ahead and do it. We await your decision, Adam.

A way to use the Astrodome while we figure out what to do with it

How does a Super Bowl light show grab you?

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

The future of the Astrodome still might be in the dark, but that doesn’t mean the iconic building can’t return to the spotlight for at least a few minutes.

A pair of 25-year-old Rice University graduates came up with an idea to display a light show on the building’s roof that could come to fruition for the Super Bowl in February. The technological feat would use “projection mapping” to cast images of Houston culture onto the ceiling and through the hundreds of windows of the long-vacant Astrodome in yet another effort to redefine the structure as its fate is debated.

“I was just so interested that we not tear down the Astrodome, that we find a way to repurpose it and make it exciting again,” said Phoebe Tudor, who heads a group called Friends of the Dome and has worked on the light show initiative. “There are probably other things that could potentially happen in it in the future, but this would be such a great thing for now, and relatively easy and relatively inexpensive, compared to other things that may have been considered.”

[…]

Beyond the general concept of Houston history, show specifics have yet to be determined. During the demonstration in March, projectors cast Astros and Oilers logos onto the ceiling and even a picture of an astronaut.

People could come inside to watch a show, while images also could shine through the roof to the outside as nationally televised cameras pan over NRG Stadium during the Super Bowl, [County Judge Ed] Emmett said, potentially creating advertising revenue.

If successful, it likely would be only one of several possible uses of the Astrodome during the Super Bowl festivities, including another proposal to project images onto the outside walls.

The two Rice grads, one with expertise in engineering and the other familiar with projection mapping – a technique that uses multiple projectors to cast shapes and images onto uneven surfaces – came up with the light show idea.

One of the men, Alex Weinheimer of Houston, said he’s always had an interest in baseball, architecture and history. He said he was watching a Texans game one night when the broadcast showed a blimp passing over the Astrodome with its white indoor lights on.

“It’s a very pretty, geometric design,” Weinheimer said. “It’s also fairly unique.”

Weinheimer thought that something more could be done with the stadium. He got in touch with Joshuah Jest, and they began working up a light-show concept.

Tudor took notice of their work and helped put them in touch with the county. Over the past year, they’ve been working out the particulars of the show on a scale model, Tudor said, until they tested their idea in the Dome in March.

“We’ve sort of tried to prove the concept,” Weinheimer said.

Sounds pretty interesting. I confess I’m having “Pink Floyd laser light show” flashbacks here, and the urge to make stoner jokes is strong, but I will remain steadfast. Assuming everyone involved approves this, I could see it being a cool addition to the Super Bowl spectacle. Having a useful purpose for the Dome, even for a one-time event, is a good thing. I wish everyone luck in getting this done.

The dry run for the Super Bowl

It went pretty well.

In less than a year, the Super Bowl is expected to draw almost twice as many as the 70,000 out-of-towners who flocked here for the Final Four. More than 1 million are expected to come downtown and to NRG Park from the Houston region, presenting even greater logistical and security challenges than those posed by the Final Four.

For Super Bowl planners, the NCAA Tournament was a test to see if, after 13 years, Houston is ready for the return of America’s most popular sporting event.

“We were helping them; they’re going to help us big time, make sure that we’re ready for our event,” said Ric Campo, chairman of the Super Bowl Host Committee, of Final Four planners. “There’s a lot of great lessons to be learned. You always can learn from on the ground in terms of what works and what doesn’t.”

Organizers said the Final Four affirmed Houston’s ability to host high-profile sporting events, with dozens of city and county agencies working together to manage traffic and crowds. Approximately 75,000 people attended the semifinals and the championship games, organizers said. About 165,000 attended the maxed-out Discovery Green concert. Organizers said the value in having a free concert outweighed the possibility of having to turn people away.

More than 55,000 went to a Final Four Fan Fast – featuring games and sports – at George R. Brown Convention Center.

“The surprise would be that for the most part, things went as we had planned,” said Doug Hall, president and CEO of the Final Four local organizing committee. “You never take that for granted in the event business.”

[…]

The Final Four also highlighted how the Super Bowl will be different. Instead of four days of activities, the Super Bowl likely will span 10 days, mostly focused on downtown, Campo said, including an expo in George R. Brown Convention Center with player and football events and Houston history and culture in the streets.

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president for events, said the NFL will release a more detailed schedule of events in the summer.

Campo said there will be 50 percent more street space available. While some 3,500 volunteers worked the Final Four, Super Bowl organizers are hoping to recruit up to 10,000 volunteers. So far they are about halfway to that total, but Campo said the window to sign up is closing.

“You need to get involved before it’s too late,” he said.

I doubt that Houston will have any difficulty being ready for the Super Bowl. We’ve done it before, and several other major sporting events as well. The light rail system, which was brand new and had multiple issues with cars not knowing how to stay out of its way back in 2004, is mature and running mostly smoothly. Downtown is a lot more visitor-friendly than it was in 2004. Basically, as long as the weather cooperates, all should go well.

Got some free time next January?

The Houston Super Bowl Committee wants you.

As Houston prepares to host the Super Bowl next year, the Super Bowl host committee is seeking volunteers to pitch in for the big game.

The committee seeks up to 10,000 volunteers and has begun its online application process.

“Volunteers will play a critical role in the success of Super Bowl LI, here in Houston, in 2017,” host committee president and CEO Sallie Sargent said. “The positive experience our visitors will have will be in large part due to the interaction they have with our volunteers.”

The ideal candidate will have a passion for football, the city of Houston and Southern hospitality, according to the host committee.

During a 10-day period leading up to the Super Bowl, volunteers will be required to work at least three shifts consisting of six to eight hours for staff volunteers and eight to 10 hours for volunteer supervisors.

Key dates are from Jan. 27 to Feb. 5 next year. To volunteer, go here, or send an email to volunteer@housuperbowl.com. AS to whether or not you should do this, I’ll let Dan Solomon weigh in:

Snark aside, it’s both understandable why a person might want to volunteer to help with the Super Bowl—it’s the friggin’ Super Bowl! What a neat thing to be a part of!—but it’s also obvious that this is a rip-off. Extremely profitable entities shouldn’t be recruiting volunteers to do work that they should be paying people for—that’s not just good advice, it’s labor law. Organizations from the NFL to Super Bowl Host Committees to SXSW skirt minimum wage requirements all the time, of course. (This year’s Super Bowl changed its position and agreed to pay a small portion of its volunteers, who were providing manual labor to set up the halftime show, after a news report from ABC.) Still, the idea of volunteering to make even more money for an already extremely profitable organization is a bit more palatable when those who are helping out can actually go to the event. It might not be entirely legal that SXSW volunteers are rewarded with badges, access to screenings/showcases/panels, and maybe the chance to pick Ryan Gosling up at the airport, for example, but you can certainly see the reciprocal nature of the relationship. The 10,000 Houstonians who are going to be doing Lord knows what over the 10-day period that surrounds Super Bowl 51, meanwhile, appear to be getting a uniform.

Still, they’ll probably get away with it—and they’ll probably find the recruits they need too. In San Francisco, where the host committee sought 5,000 volunteers (everything is bigger in Texas), they managed to wrangle two-thirds of the people they needed in just a week. But when people question whether the Super Bowl is really the economic boon to a local economy it’s made out to be, the fact that 10,000 temporary jobs that could get money circulating in the area are instead filled with arm-waving volunteers is probably part of your answer.

So there you have it. Note that volunteers do not get a ticket to the game – seriously, 10,000 Super Bowl tickets is worth more than its weight in gold or crack – so set your expectation levels accordingly.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.

Meet the woman in charge of prepping Houston for Super Bowl LI

The countdown is on, and the spotlight is already ours.

Sallie Sargent

When Sallie Sargent applied to take charge of Houston’s preparations for next year’s Super Bowl, she faced a rather daunting audition: find 11 major sponsors to finish a $25 million fundraising project.

“I told Sallie she had six months,” said Ric Campo, the chairman of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. Find the sponsors, he said, and “I would consider her application.”

Sargent signed the sponsors, raised the money, met her deadline and was given the reins to guiding the city’s third Super Bowl.

“I felt like jumping up and down,” she said. “But I kept my composure and went back to work.”

That was nearly two years ago. Now, with the NFL’s 51st Super Bowl coming to town in 52 weeks, Sargent’s job – her official title is president and CEO – is to ensure that America’s largest, highest-profile single-day sports event makes what she calls her “adopted home” come across to the world as the proverbial city on a hill, flat as a table though it may be.

“I’m an optimist by nature,” said Sargent, 56.

It’s a pretty standard puff piece, in which one comes away with an admiration of Ms. Sargent’s energy and focus. The main thing I learned was that she has already secured all of the funding from the various entities that pledged their financial support to the Host Committee, which is a pretty big deal for them given the current economic climate. Anyway, I don’t have a larger point to make, just passing along a reminder that the next Super Bowl will be here, and we should expect to see a steady stream of stories about How The Preparations Are Going and What Sort Of New Things We Should Expect in the interim. The Press has more.

State of the county 2016

This year’s theme is cooperation and meeting challenges.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In his ongoing effort to revive the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday proposed using the aging landmark for an outdoor light show when Houston hosts the Super Bowl next February.

Emmett discussed the future of the Ddome and touched on the challenges the county faces in health care during his ninth “State of the County” address before 1,100 business leaders at NRG Center.

He floated the idea of a projected light show on the exterior of the Astrodome to coincide with the Super Bowl. Emmett also laid out a long-term plan to convert the nine-acre interior into an indoor park with underground parking or storage and retail facilities above.

[…]

He also touched on another of his key themes, the county’s duty to meet fundamental health care needs of residents while it grapples with the cost of providing services without help from expanded Medicaid funds that state leaders refuse to pursue.

“So long as the county property taxpayer has to bear the cost of health care, we will have trouble meeting the challenge. Refusing to accept federal dollars available for indigent health care makes no more sense than turning down federal highway funds,” Emmett said. “Those who now reject federal dollars for health care are not only punishing individuals and families who need access to better care, they are increasing property taxes for all taxpayers.”

Emmett ended by pleading with business leaders to “push back against those who want to play politics with county government.” People vilify government, he said, but then they expect high-quality emergency services, flood control and a smooth commute.

The full speech is here. In his discussion of how senseless it is to reject federal dollars for indigent health care, he recalled his time in the Legislature when some of his colleagues wanted to turn down federal highway dollars because they didn’t want to mandate seat belt usage. It took a visit from Dr. Red Duke to convince them to come to their senses. “We need another Red Duke to bring reason to the issue of indigent health care,” he said. I love the parallel Emmett draws, but I respectfully disagree with his prescription. What we really need is fewer Republicans in Austin, beginning with the Governor and Lt. Governor, who would refuse to listen to what Dr. Red Duke would be telling them. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other respected authorities – doctors, business folk, economists – who have been saying the same thing. The problem is the hammerheaded and entirely partisan unwillingness to listen.

Anyway. As always, the full speech is worth your time; background on the Dome stuff is here. Judge Emmett was introduced by Mayor Turner, which again bodes well for city/county cooperation going forward. Your Houston News and Swamplot have more.

Who will pay for Super Bowl stadium improvements?

Gotta say, I’m with Steve Radack on this one.

If the NFL has its way, luxury boxes and club seats at NRG Stadium will undergo major upgrades at the expense of Harris County or its tenants before Super Bowl LI arrives in Houston in 2017.

But if the decision is up to Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, using public funds to improve suites for corporate executives and billion-dollar companies would be a non-starter.

“I’m not about to vote to spend a single dollar of county money updating these luxury suites,” Radack said.

With 21 months to go until the sporting event that launches Houston onto the world stage for one glorious Sunday, much work still remains to prepare for the big party. One of the most significant tasks appears to be dressing up NRG Stadium. The price for seating updates and other improvements could rise as high as $50 million, including $5 million to enhance the facility’s WiFi capacity, sources previously have told the Houston Chronicle.

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events, said Monday that upgrading the stadium’s WiFi is something the bid committee has agreed to do. In terms of sprucing up the seating, he said he noted on a recent visit that NRG “is in a very good place at this stage in its stadium life, but there are opportunities to upgrade that are common across Super Bowl stadiums as they prepare and continue to make sure they are state-of-the-art.”

O’Reilly said the burden for the costs of upgrading the facility rests with Harris County or its tenants – the Texans and the rodeo. But so far, none of the parties involved has volunteered to pick up the tab. County officials seem resolute that they won’t be forking over any funds.

Jamey Rootes, president of the Texans, explained that the team is 13 years into its 30-year lease and O’Reilly was merely noting “that there could be some improvements that would help Houston put its best foot forward.”

“Anything that as a fan you might come into contact with might be a factor because you’re going to be in that facility for a long time,” Rootes said.

[…]

For NRG Park, the question of fixing up the premises comes down to a landlord-tenant issue under glaring stadium lights.

The county, through its sports and convention corporation, serves as landlord to NRG’s tenants, which include the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. [Commissioner Jack] Cagle said WiFi costs are “currently a responsibility of the current tenant.”

“WiFi wasn’t really around when our contracts were set up,” Cagle said. “It’s not one of our landlord responsibilities. We have a contract that is in place, and perhaps that needs to be renegotiated.”

See here for the background. The “landlord-tenant” characterization sounds right to me. I can see the case for upgrading WiFi – who installed it in the first place, if it wasn’t there originally? – and of course if there are actual repairs to be made, that’s a landlord responsibility. But if we’re basically talking about fancier party decorations and accoutrements, that’s on the tenant. Stand firm, y’all. Paradise in Hell and Campos have more.

Beautifying Broadway

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Not that Broadway

Broadway between Hobby Airport and Interstate 45 may offer a first impression of Houston to first-time visitors, but not the one many civic boosters would like.

The 2 miles along the main road between the airport and the highway include strip developments and aging apartment complexes. Grassy medians along the road are scattered with few trees and shrubs. Little landscaping or lighting welcome travelers or residents coming home.

“Tired” is one word used to describe the area by Anne Culver, the president of Scenic Houston, a nonprofit working to raise $7.5 million to upgrade the area.

“You only have one shot at a first impression,” Culver said. “For many coming to Houston, that first impression is Broadway. … It’s not welcoming.”

Civic leaders envision a Broadway lined with oaks trees, flowers and shrubs in median. Gravel pathways and benches would be placed along the road in the now patchy esplanades. Art Deco-style LED lights would illuminate newly paved walkways and crosswalks.

The push to improve the street comes as Hobby is expected to bring an estimated 1.5 million new passengers annually into the area once its international terminal opens in the fall and as the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston nears.

[…]

Scenic Houston and the Hobby Area Management District, the district set up to boost economic development in the area, say it’s the right time to do whatever they can to make the area look as good as it can. They have set out a $7.5 million plan for trees and LED light fixtures up and down the roads. Along the esplanades, gravel and walkways would wind in between benches, flowers and the new lighting. Sidewalks would be improved. The groups are working to raise money from private donors and some funding will come from the management district.

“This was a great opportunity to step into the breach,” Culver said. “If you’re coming in from the airports, the first impression for miles is that the city is unattractive.”

I’d argue that the stretch of I-45 in from IAH, with its unending stream of used car lots, strip clubs, and billboards, is the uglier and worse-impression-making of the city’s entry points. At least Broadway provides a nice view of Sims Bayou. Still, I take their point. Any reasonable thing we can do to make the city look better is worthwhile. Given that TxDOT is already paying to rebuild the street, it makes all kinds of sense to make the upgraded street more functional, which in itself should help to make it more attractive. I tend to fly United so I don’t get this way that often, but I will look forward to seeing how this turns out.