In the early 1980s, oil was selling for about $33 a barrel, and most forecasts said it would reach $60. A few even predicted $100. The energy industry was booming, catapulting the economy of Houston to dizzying new levels of prosperity.
In the early 1980s, oil was selling for about $33 a barrel, and most forecasts said it would reach $60. A few even predicted $100. The energy industry was booming, catapulting the economy of Houston to dizzying new levels of prosperity.It was in this climate that city leaders pushed forward with plans for a new $175 million convention center and ultimately chose a site on the eastern edge of the central business district.
Even amid this booming period, real estate holdings in downtown Houston had not yet had time to ride the winds of economic prosperity. The area surrounding the 11-acre future site of the George R. Brown Convention Center was an unimpressive tableau of outdated buildings, small warehouses and surface parking lots.
And then the bottom fell out of the oil business. By January 1986, with the GRB in the full throes of construction, the price of a barrel of oil plummeted to $10.
When the George R. Brown opened on September 26, 1987, any hopes for a fast-moving rollout of Houston's new playground were quickly dashed by a blunted economy.
One individual who had a front-row seat for this economic implosion was Bob Eury, who started his long – and ongoing – stint as president of Central Houston, Inc., in 1983. Central Houston is a private, nonprofit corporation that plans and implements downtown redevelopment.
"When we started Central Houston, 10 million square feet of downtown office space was being completed," Eury said. "Within 18 months, Houston was experiencing one of its worst downturns ever. In Houston's resilient way, led by Mayor Whitmire and her successors, civic leaders never stopped looking forward in building this city, even if realization of the vision would take far longer than most of us could have anticipated."
Once the economy recovered, however, the real estate explosion originally envisioned for the convention center neighborhood began to materialize.
Pieces fell into place over the past 25 years, and the GRB is surrounded by some of the landmarks that many visitors identify with today – Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, Discovery Green park and new office towers.
"Throughout the years, the one constant on the east side of downtown has been the George R. Brown," said Luther Villagomez, chief operations officer for conventions at Houston First, which manages the GRB. "The GRB has welcomed tens of millions of people to Houston, and it's been a vital economic engine throughout the many changes in the economy."
Eury agreed. "Today the urban place around the George R. Brown is indeed exciting, and even more exciting are future projects in the works that will add to this remarkable transformation over the past quarter century," Eury said.George R. Brown Convention Center, GRB, GRBCC