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The city of Sugar Land is constructing the Smart Financial Centre of Sugar Land and Phase 2 of the Brazos River Park development as part of its efforts to continue to boost tourism and increase sales tax revenue in the city.

Tourists visited Sugar Land in record numbers over the last five years as a result of the city’s past efforts to attract visitors through the construction of entertainment venues, such as Sugar Land Town Square and Constellation Field, according to the Sugar Land Convention & Visitor Services.

Sugar Land is also attracting developers to construct destination centers with retail and commercial options as regional visitors continue to flock to city attractions.

“I think those venues set us up for economic growth because they offer access to high-quality entertainment and activities that make us unique,” said Jennifer May, director of economic development for Sugar Land.

Teresa Preza, tourism and destination service administrator for the Sugar Land Convention & Visitor Services, said the additional venues in Sugar Land have resulted in a 63 percent increase of visitor spending between 2006 and 2014, and a 30 percent increase in the hotel occupancy tax revenue between 2012 and 2014.

“Those pieces have helped increase visitor spending by giving visitors the opportunity to spend more in our city and experience greater things in our city,” Preza said.

New venues

Sugar Land is in the process of constructing Phase 2 of the Brazos River Park development and its adjacent festival site and the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land south of University Boulevard along Hwy. 59. Each venue is slated to be complete in 2016 and is intended to host large city events as well as attract national entertainment acts.

May said both developments are projected to set the stage for the future development of another commercial destination center to be located within the BRP and Smart Financial Centre developments. Although a timeline has not been determined for a future commercial center, the proposed destination center is projected to mirror the same success as Town Square, May said.

Taylor McFarland, event program manager for Sugar Land Town Square, said the increase in destination attractions in Sugar Land over the last decade has attracted additional retail and event opportunities within Town Square.

“Since we’ve started here, the center has grown tremendously with office space and retail tenants,” McFarland said. “The big thing to get people here are the events.”

McFarland said Town Square has seen a steady increase in visitor spending as well as attendance at its events due to an influx of visitors coming from Constellation Field and the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land.

As a result of the increase of visitors, Town Square hosted 160 more events between 2009 and 2014, and experienced a 21 percent increase in attendance.

“With Sugar Land continuously growing and the way the tourism program within the city is looking to promote and push and get even bigger, I think we will always have people coming in,” McFarland said.

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Retail development

Another proposed development—Imperial Market—is slated to include retail and restaurant opportunities as well as house the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation and the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center.

May said construction of Imperial Market fits the city’s tourism vision by providing additional retail, restaurant and entertainment opportunities.

“Overall, the city has a vision to have multiple major destination activity centers, with one of those being the Imperial [Market],” she said. “We believe it takes a true mix of uses to help sustain a vibrant activity center and ensure that there is activity throughout the day.”

Geoffrey Jones and James Murnane, co-owners of Imperial Market Development, are taking steps to repurpose the former Imperial Sugar refinery into the proposed Imperial Market along Hwy. 6. Jones and Murnane said they expect to tap into the city’s tourism efforts by attracting regional visitors and retail opportunities to Imperial Market.

Jones said the city’s tourism efforts and commercial development share a symbiotic relationship. As visitor spending in Sugar Land increases, it allows for commercial development to continue to flourish, Jones said.

“If you spend money at Constellation Field or if you invest in a project like Imperial Market, it tends to lure people to the area,” he said. “As more people are lured to the area, it justifies additional development.”

Hotel growth

Developers in Sugar Land are also planning to expand the city’s lodging options with two new hotels projected for the future. Imperial Market Development is repurposing the former Imperial Sugar Char House into a 120-room boutique hotel while Planned Community Developers is planning to construct a 134-room Marriott Courtyard hotel in its new Lake Pointe One development along Hwy. 6.

The city of Houston is expecting six new hotels to open within the next 18 months, according to the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Although 3,000 new hotel rooms will be available to Houston visitors in 2016, May said she believes Sugar Land will not suffer a decrease in the number of visitors and tourists.

Preza said Sugar Land’s hotel industry benefits from the success Houston experiences due to its proximity to destinations, such as NRG Stadium.

“Houston is a very unique city in that it is defined by its metroplex, which includes [Sugar Land] as well,” Preza said. “Their success filters into our success, and vice versa.”

As Houston and the Greater Houston area prepares for the 2017 Super Bowl, Preza said she expects to see a positive economic impact to Sugar Land’s attractions during the weeks leading up and following the major event. She said visitors trickling into Sugar Land’s destination centers are projected to substantially affect the local economy.

“I feel that we are going to have a positive economic impact into our city overall, and we see [the Super Bowl] much more as an opportunity instead of a hindrance,” she said.