International

“Houston is open for business”

Luther Villagomez, Chief Operating Officer of the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC), talks about hurricane Harvey, his emergency shelter and tirelessly working staff.

tw: #HoustonStrong: After hurricane Harvey, Houstonians stood together. How are you doing today?
Luther Villagomez:
What the world saw during Harvey is what Houstonians have known for a long time. Houston is a diverse, welcoming and caring community. While many residents are still working to rebuild in affected areas, we are happy to say that Houston is open for business. We are a resilient and innovative community and, through incredible support locally, nationally and globally, Houston is coming back stronger than before.

From August 28 to 17 September 2017 the George R. Brown Convention Center served as emergency shelter. What did it mean for you and your staff?
The George R. Brown Operations & Service Team consists of 25 persons and the Convention Center is managed by the umbrella organization called Houston First. Houston First is especially proud of our six employees who expertly converted the GRBCC into a fully functioning emergency shelter, ready to take in community members within a mere 90 minutes of receiving the call to action. It is this passion, hard work and determination that enabled us to provide shelter for, at peak, nearly 10,000 evacuees. Staff worked tirelessly, 16 hours per day, through September 17. During this time, each Houston First employees jumped to assist wherever needed, regardless of their job title. Tasks varied, including coordinating through state agencies to arrange delivery of critical supplies, setting up IT/phone lines, food prep, cleaning, communicating efforts with local authorities and planning logistics for receiving evacuees.

What about your customers?
We are pleased to say that no major meetings were cancelled, and remained committed to keeping their business in Houston. Five meetings were rescheduled, and Houston was back to hosting meetings starting with Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE), which we welcomed September 17 to 19 at the Marriott Marquis Houston.

US$1.5 billion have just been invested in the new Downtown Convention District including the refurbished GRBCC. Was this area affected?
Fortunately, Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center and surrounding campus, called Avenida Houston,


did not sustain significant damage.

PCMA and its Education Foundation established a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Now they announced their meeting “Convening Leaders 2021” in Houston at your center. A coincidence?
The bidding process with PCMA was already in progress, and it is a coincidence that it was announced following Harvey. That said, we are extremely grateful for the support of PCMA and their commitment to assisting Houston’s community.

After catastrophes like Hurricane Harvey, the best thing a city needs is business to come back. How do you convince meeting planners?
Fortunately, all major conventions scheduled to take place in Houston for the remainder of the year have committed to staying in Houston. While many residential areas and a few attractions are still working to rebuild, the majority of our restaurants, attractions and hotels (98%) are fully operational and open for business. Our ability to successfully host TSAE immediately following Harvey is a testament to our commitment to providing first-class service.

In 2020 the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) with 6,000 delegates is scheduled at the GRBCC. How important is WPC2020 for Houston?
This is a major win for Houston. As the energy capital of the world, there is no better city than Houston to showcase the conference, technologies and energy revolution that is taking place right in our backyard. Not only will the event have a significant economic impact on our city it will also help create new business opportunities for our energy companies. Capitalizing on the strength of Houston’s core industries when going after business is a growing focus for us at Visit Houston. KERSTIN WÜNSCH
 

GEORGE R. BROWN CONVENTION CENTER

At 1.2 million usable square feet (111,484 square meters) the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC) ranks among the 10 largest convention centers in the USA. Downtown of Houston located, the GRBCC is flanked by the Toyota Center, home of the Rockets, to the south and Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, to the north. Connected via two skybridges is the 1,200 room Hilton-Americas and coming in 2017 and also connecting via skybridge is the 1,000 room Marriot Marquis. 
www.grbhouston.com
“Houston is open for business” Image 1
PHOTO: GEORGE R. BROWN CONVENTION CENTER
„Houston First employees jumped to assist wherever needed, regardless of their job title.“
Luther Villagomez, Chief Operating Officer, GRBCC
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