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Facilities Update
Houston Convention Center Changes Management Structure


George R. Brown To Fall Under Quasi-Public Houston First Umbrella

The City of Houston’s Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department (CEFD) is consolidating with the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation to create a new entity that will operate the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center and several other municipal venues. Houston City Council voted recently to place the facilities under the new organization called Houston First Corporation, which became effective July 1.

In addition to the George R. Brown, CEFD properties include Wortham Theater Center, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Jones Plaza, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Theater District Parking, Sesquicentennial Park, Root Memorial Square, and several other smaller park and performing arts facilities. Houston Mayor Annise Parker said the new structure is a positive step, the impact of which will be felt for years to come.

"Long term, there will be some operational efficiencies to be realized as a result of this consolidation, and the Houston First management team will be able to avail themselves of business practices that will make it easier to maintain and improve the GRB and ensure it stays in cutting-edge condition," Mayor Parker said.

Richard J. “Ric” Campo
will chair Houston First’s nine-member Board of Directors. Campo is chairman and CEO of Houston-based Camden Property Trust, one of the nation's largest multifamily Real Estate Investment Trusts. Dawn Ullrich, currently director of CEFD, will serve as president. "With consolidation, we create a single entity that's focused on the operation as a whole for the long term," Campo said. "Fortunately, we won't be reinventing the wheel here. Each of these facilities already has an experienced management team in place. The role of the Houston First board, as I see it, is to look for opportunities to fine-tune operations."

Ullrich said the new entity will generate more revenues to the city through increased bookings. “In the long run, the increased revenues will allow us to continue to maintain all of our facilities in first-class condition," she said. In changing to a quasi-public entity, the GRB joins the growing ranks of convention centers adopting alternate management forms. According to a 2010 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 33 percent of all centers with more than 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space were run by quasi-public authorities. The same study showed 39 percent of similarly sized centers were run by city or county governments.

"We've always been able to run the Brown as more of a business than a government function and raise our own revenue,” GRB General Manager Luther Villagomez said. “And now our organization will be even more streamlined. So the GRB will be looking to do more things to enhance our business model and meet the needs of our clients even more effectively and creatively than we have before." Houston's mayor will appoint and City Council will confirm Houston First's board members, who currently serve on the hotel corporation board. They recently were appointed or reappointed by Mayor Parker and will remain in place for the duration of their terms. The city created the HCCHC in 2000 to govern the construction and operation of the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel.
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