George R. Brown Convention Center
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The center was named for the prominent Houstonian George R. Brown, an entrepreneur, civic leader, and philanthropist. Brown’s Texas Eastern Corporation donated six of the 11 blocks required to build the convention center. The center is owned by the City of Houston and managed by the Houston First Corporation. The facility was completed with a price tag of $104.9 million, requiring 30 months and more than 1,200 workers. The 100-foot (30 m) high red-white-and-blue building replaced the obsolete Albert Thomas Convention Center, which was later redeveloped into the Bayou Place entertainment complex in the downtown Houston Theater District.
The center sits where the Pillot House, a house owned by the family of one of the founders of the Henke & Pillot supermarket chain, used to be. The Pillot House was moved to Sam Houston Park in 1965.
The first convention held in the George R. Brown Convention Center began on October 11, 1987, for the American Society of Travel Agents. A renovation project began on July 28, 2001 to expand the convention center and build an adjacent 1,200-room convention headquarters hotel at a cost of $165 million and requiring 27 months of construction. The adjacent hotel is the Hilton Americas-Houston, which is connected to the convention center via two skywalks. The hotel and convention center are not connected to the Houston downtown tunnel system. The project expanded the center from 1,150,000 square feet (107,000 m2) to 1,800,000 square feet (107,000 to 167,000 m²). Three exhibit halls were added to increase exhibition space from 451,500 square feet (41,950 m2) to 853,500 square feet (42,000 to 79,000 m²) and sixty-two meeting rooms were added for a total of 105. Completion of the project concluded in November 2003, a few months before Super Bowl XXXVIII.
At the same time, METRORail was completed on schedule (connecting downtown to the Houston Museum District, Texas Medical Center, and Reliant Park), and what is deemed a revived downtown Houston has opened doors to future conventions (in 2004 and 2008, the Texas Democratic Convention was held at the GRB). The International Quilt Festival and International Quilt Market annually draws about 50,000 per year. In 2008, the 12-acre (49,000 m2) Discovery Green park was completed across the street and the three-block Houston Pavilions (a retail and entertainment complex, anchored by House of Blues) opened four blocks away. A new 700-car parking garage was built under Discovery Green to replace two surface lots removed to make way for the park. The convention center is flanked by Toyota Center (home of the Houston Rockets and Houston Aeros) and Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros). With the new improvements, the George R. Brown Convention Center is one of the 10 largest in the nation.
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