Houston: There’s Plenty Of Room In ‘Space City’

Apr 1, 2006
2006 / April 2006

When Hurricane Katrina forced nearly a quarter-million people from Louisiana late last summer, many found refuge in Houston. With its characteristic open-arms style, America’s fourth largest city welcomed its newest residents and helped them locate housing, jobs and schools.

“What makes Houston a great city is that the people here are so willing to be helpful to others,” said Jordy Tollett, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Andy Icken, executive vice president of the Texas Medical Center, said Houston has the ability to tackle any problem, no matter how complex, which benefited the city during the crisis.

“No matter what the obstacle, no matter how difficult things are, there’s always a solution to the problem,” he said. “I think what Katrina demonstrated applies not only to science or engineering or business, but also to dealing with complex, people-related problems.”

The most recent survey of evacuees to Houston shows that more than half have decided to remain here. While their reasons for staying may vary, history has proven that Houston is a good place for a fresh start. Take Houston’s recovery from the oil depression in the 1980s, for example. Having long relied on oil production as its primary industry, the city realized it had to diversify to protect its economy from cyclical booms and busts.

“What we do best here is pull up our bootstraps and do something about it,” Tollett said. “We don’t sit around and wait.”

Energy, which used to account for 86 percent of Houston’s economic-base employment, now accounts for less than 50 percent. While energy remains an important component of the city’s economy, Houston is also a player in the fields of medicine, space/aerospace, international trade and information technology. In 2005, it ranked third among U.S. metro areas housing Fortune 500 company headquarters. ConocoPhillips, Sysco and Waste Management are all represented here.

The Port of Houston drives the city’s dominance in international trade and commerce. It is the world’s sixth largest port, and second largest in the United States. The 25-mile-long complex along the Houston Ship Channel is served by more than 100 steamship lines, which reach 1,034 ports. Among Houston’s top trading partners are Mexico, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Belgium, South Korea and the Netherlands, and leading commodities include petroleum and petroleum products, organic chemicals, plastics, iron and steel, vehicles and machinery.

In 2005, the port experienced record growth in operating revenue, total tonnage and total containers. Tom Kornegay, Port of Houston Authority executive director, said that record growth is spurring further development of the port facilities.

“We are now building a new container terminal — the Bayport container terminal,” he said. “The first phase should open up about August of this year. It really will be the premier container terminal at that time, because it will be the latest, greatest, most up-to-date and modern.”

As the Port of Houston expands, it is looking toward growth in new industries. In 2003, the New York Board of Trade designated the port as a coffee exchange point, enabling it to ship and trade coffee.

“We’re one of only four (coffee ports) in the United States,” Kornegay said. “It’s a relatively new designation for us, so we’re just building that business. It’s not large yet, but we expect to be there.”

While the city’s international trade builds, across town the Texas Medical Center (TMC) is furthering Houston’s reputation as the “healing capital of the world.” With 42 institutions, 5.2 million patient visits and more than 65,000 employees in 2004, the 800-acre center represents the largest concentration of medical facilities in the world.

“[Our] focus is only on three things: education, research and patient care,” said TMC’s Icken. “But even the education and the research is focused on health, so it’s created this center of health built on extraordinary technical competence, new ideas and a professionalism about the people who work here who are dedicated to it. There’s really this compassion, this enthusiasm for creating this very special place. That doesn’t happen overnight.”

In fact, it has taken more than 60 years to build TMC into the facility it is today — and it continues to break new ground in research and health care. Rice University is one of six institutions of higher learning teamed with TMC — the group is dubbed a ‘nanoalliance’ — to conduct research in the field of nanotechnology. TMC also has a strong relationship with NASA and the Johnson Space Center, utilizing research conducted in space to advance the study of human medicine.

The city’s diversified economy has helped build a strong and growing community. Many civic leaders believe Houston’s ‘can do’ spirit is one of its biggest attractions. They may be right.


LODGING

THE ALDEN

Dark cocoa and cream hues give an understated elegance to this downtown luxury boutique hotel. Crisp white linens, complimentary wireless high-speed Internet, flat-screen televisions and a free DVD library are just some of the unique perks here. On top of all that, there’s the delicious food and superb service at the trendy restaurant 17. Favorites include gulf shrimp curry, seared ahi tuna, Black Angus beef fillet and black truffle mac ’n’ cheese. $$$$
THE ALDEN
1117 Prairie St.
tel 832 200 8800, fax 832 200 8811
www.aldenhotels.com

WESTIN GALLERIA AND WESTIN OAKS

Flanking the Galleria, the fifth largest shopping complex in the country, the Westin Galleria and the Westin Oaks are the perfect hotels for anyone wishing to do a little upscale shopping in between business meetings. Both feature Westin’s signature Heavenly line of guestroom amenities, including the Heavenly Bed and the Heavenly Bath. (Note: In January, Westin properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean implemented a no-smoking policy in their guestrooms.) $$$$
WESTIN GALLERIA
5060 W. Alabama St.
tel 713 960 8100, fax 713 960 6553
WESTIN OAKS
5011 Westheimer Road
tel 713 960 8100, fax 713 960 6554
www.starwoodhotels.com/westin

HILTON AMERICAS

Houston’s largest hotel boasts 1,200 guestrooms and 91,500 square feet of meeting space. Connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, the hotel is convenient to several attractions. $$$-$$$$
HILTON AMERICAS
1600 Lamar St.
tel 713 739 8000, fax tel 713 739 8007
www.hilton.com


DINING

THE BREAKFAST KLUB

Long lines are known to form here early Saturday morning, as loyal patrons patiently wait for the Breakfast Klub’s mouthwatering signature dishes: catfish and grits or wings and waffles. The soul-food establishment is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday. $
THE BREAKFAST KLUB
3711 Travis St.
tel 713 528 8561
www.thebreakfastklub.com

MARK’S AMERICAN CUISINE

Ask a group of Houstonians to name the best restaurant in the city, and nine out of 10 will recommend Mark’s. The 10th person just probably hasn’t eaten there yet. Dubbed ‘American progressive,’ Chef Mark Cox’s creations draw inspiration from cuisines around the country and the world. Dark and candlelit, Mark’s is housed in a 1920s church, complete with stained-glass windows and cathedral ceilings. $$$$
MARK’S AMERICAN CUISINE
1658 Westheimer Road
tel 713 523 3800, fax 713 523 9292
www.marks1658.com

TREVISIO

This trendy restaurant has it all: sweeping views, delectable food and charming ambience. The diverse menu combines classic Italian dishes with innovative flair. Try one of the homemade pasta dishes, chicken stuffed with goat cheese or parmesan-crusted trout. $$
TREVISIO
6550 Bertner St.
tel 713 749 0400, fax 713 749 0401
www.trevisiorestaurant.com


DIVERSIONS

With 16 museums within its boundaries, the Houston Museum District (www.houstonmuseumdistrict.org) is the fourth largest in the country. All offer free hours, and 11 of them are free year-round. The Museum of Fine Arts (tel 713 639 7300, ) houses an art collection that draws from all over the world. Through June 4 the featured exhibit is “Mark Seliger: In My Stairwell.” The Rolling Stones’ chief photographer for 10 years, Seliger has photographed several celebrities. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (tel 713 284 8250, ) features works by some of today’s leading contemporary artists. Through July, the museum features the work of Houston sculptor Jim Love. For those interested in offbeat artwork, the ‘Eye-opener Tour’ from the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art showcases the city’s most unusual art displays, such as the Orange Show Monument and the Beer Can House. The center’s largest event is the annual Art Car Parade. Last year, more than 200,000 people gathered to watch unusually decorated cars roll through the streets of Houston.

The Shell Houston Open (www.shellhoustonopen.com), the city’s only PGA Tour stop, will be played this month on the new Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club (tel 281 459 7800). Developed specifically for the tournament — set for April 17-23 — the 7,422-yard, par-72 course is open to the public. The $125 greens fee includes cart, range balls and forecaddie.


INFO TO GO

Houston has two major airports: George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and the smaller William P. Hobby (HOU). Twenty-three miles north of the city, George Bush Intercontinental boasts five terminals and more than 700 daily departures to domestic and international cities. Just seven miles south of downtown, Hobby services more than 30 U.S. destinations.

While Houston does have a city-wide bus system, a taxi is the fastest option for reaching your destination from the airport. Rates from George Bush Intercontinental to downtown run about $40; Hobby to downtown costs about $20. If you need to travel to several locations within the city, your best bet is to rent a car. Houston traffic can be notoriously congested, but a lack of public transportation options makes a car necessary.

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