Super Bowl beautification process changes Houston landscape

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Super Bowl LI is less than a month away, and crews across Houston are busy putting the final touches on the city.

Two of the biggest projects are nearing completion and will serve as direct reflections of the city.

The NFL Experience and NFL Live events will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green Park.

The GRB recently underwent a $175 million renovation project as part of a broader convention district initiative.

“It is complete right now, we're just doing fine tuning, touch ups here and there,” said Peter McStravick, chief development officer for Houstonfirst.

McStravick said the idea to create a convention district around the GRB actually started in 2011.

“We started looking at research as to why we were losing business, convention business,” said McStravick.

McStravick said that before the project started, there was little in the way of shopping, dining and hotel rooms around the GRB to help lure large conventions away from other, more tourist-friendly cities.

Upgrading the GRB comes with an art-adorned pedestrian plaza that gives easy access to Discovery Green. There are now 3,000 hotel rooms in the area, along with 22 restaurants and bars. Two light rail lines now make stops at the GRB.

Avenida de las Americas, which runs in front of the GRB, has been narrowed from nine to two lanes. Metal bollards lining the avenue can also be removed to block off the street on either end for events held in front of the GRB.

McStravick said the idea was to create a “city center” environment that is pedestrian friendly and similar to that of Sugar Land, The Woodlands and Cinco Ranch. McStravick said these improvements will help lure business to Houston long after the Super Bowl.

A makeover of one of Houston’s main gateways is also nearly complete. The so-called "Broadway Project" runs from Hobby airport to the Gulf Freeway. The Texas Department of Transportation spent $17 million re-doing the two-mile stretch of road. The project was then managed by the City of Houston. Scenic Houston then raised another $6.2 million in donations to beautify the area.

“We felt like it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Anne Culver, president of Scenic Houston.

Culver said donations paid for red brick pedestrian crossings, decorative gravel, flowers, bolstered bus stops and 410 new live oak, sycamore and crepe myrtle trees. Part of the donation came from CenterPoint Energy, which installed state of-the-art LED street lights.

Culver said the project wasn’t done with the Super Bowl in mind, but rather as a way to enhance the “spine” of one of Houston’s oldest communities.

“These enhancements are going to be a new 'welcome to Houston' from the airport at that end, but it's going to be a 'welcome home' to everyone that lives in this community,” said Culver.

The $198 million project on South Post Oak to add dedicated bus lanes and other improvements won't be complete until next year. However, Uptown Management officials said work south of San Felipe won't start until after the Super Bowl to help minimize congestion around the portion of Uptown leading to the Galleria.

The city of Houston and Harris County Precinct 1 office both report that all street repair projects around NRG Park have been completed. Any other major road projects won't start until after the Super Bowl.

Tx-DOT officials report that all road projects around downtown have been completed, and work on Highway 290 will be minimized during Super Bowl weekend to help cut down on congestion.

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