Events, nature and a wealth of historical attractions continue to draw increasing numbers of tourists to Conroe and the surrounding area.
In response, city officials are considering the need for a full-service hotel and convention center within the city to attract additional tourism to the region. The city completed a feasibility study in March 2016 to assess the need for the venue, and officials are talking with possible stakeholders in the private sector about a potential facility, Conroe Mayor Toby Powell said.
Furthermore, Powell said the city should consider the need for additional event venues in the future.
“There is so much going on not only with the convention center, but we need to bring more venues to Conroe,” Powell said. “We need to consider [an] event center in the future for concerts and music. These are things that are on the back of our minds when we consider how to make Conroe even greater.”
The economic effect tourism has on Conroe continues to grow, and spending in Conroe by tourists has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years, according to Conroe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau statistics.
The city collected $1.22 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue in 2016, which is an increase from about $690,000 in hotel tax collections in 2010, according to city records. Tourists also spent $77 million in Conroe in 2015—the most recent year for which data is available—compared to $55 million in 2010 and $18 million in 2006, according to the CVB.
Officials said the revenue from hotel tax has increased with limited growth in hotel space. The city currently has 19 hotels, compared to 17 in 2010.
“Tourism is far more important monetarily to Conroe than the citizens realize,” CVB Manager Harold Hutcheson said. “If tourists did not come here and buy gas, food and souvenirs, it would cost the people of Conroe a lot more taxes to live here.”
Conroe City Council approved a resolution on May 25 outlining the minimum requirements for new hotels in Conroe. Hutcheson said this resolution would help make opening a location in Conroe more palatable for full-service hotels.
The ordinance requires that new hotels in the city have internal hotel rooms, at least 100 rooms, 700 square feet of meeting space, food service and a swimming pool of at least 800 square feet of surface area.
“The hotel ordinance stops the little bitty, zero-service hotels from coming,” Hutcheson said. “As long as we kept getting those hotels, we were never going to get our numbers up big enough that a full-service hotel would be able to say, ‘Holy cow, there is room for us,’ because those little hotels keep thinning the percentage of rooms rented every night.”
The increase in tourism has led city officials to consider the need for a full-service hotel equipped with a conference center. The Greater Conroe Economic Development Council commissioned a study completed in 2016 by CBRE Hotels, a real estate service firm, to assess the need of a full-service hotel and conference center.
The study concluded the city could support the venue. Potential sites for the hotel and conference center include Grand Central Park, or other locations along the I-45 corridor, officials said.
The project has a preliminary estimated cost of $65 million, and—if the project moves forward—it is likely to be funded through a partnership between the city and private stakeholders, GCEDC Director Fred Welch said.
“Over the next four months, we are going through the very early stages of a development process to identify a location, [what] the total cost of the project would be and what the city’s cost would be,” Welch said. “Our goal would be to fund our portion of the public facility by something like a hotel/motel tax [revenue].”
The city only has one facility equipped with similar amenities: La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa in Walden. Montgomery County also operates the Lone Star Convention and Expo Center in Conroe; however, the facility does not have a hotel nearby. City officials said those facilities cannot keep up with the needs and demand from corporate companies who inquire about meeting space.
“We miss out on a great deal of business from small corporate meetings because we do not have a full-service hotel,” Hutcheson said. “They are wanting to come meet, eat, drink and sleep at the same place for three days. We lose 30, 40 or 50 of those opportunities per year.”
Additionally, Powell said the city should consider additional venues in the future, particularly an event center where musical performances and events like graduations could take place. Hutcheson said local groups like the Conroe Symphony Orchestra and events like the Sounds of Texas Music Series could grow if such a venue existed. However, plans for an event center have not been discussed by city officials, Powell said.
“There are a lot of events that are too small for the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands but too big for anything that we have in Conroe,” Hutcheson said. “[For example], the Sounds of Texas Music Series can’t have more than 550 people maximum. To be able to book any musicians at that next level up from who they are booking now, the seats would have to cost so much.”
Tourists visit Conroe and the surrounding area for a variety of reasons, including touring historical sites in the community and surrounding area; proximity to natural attractions, such as the Sam Houston National Forest, W.G. Jones State Forest and Lake Conroe; and the growing event scene, Hutcheson said.
The area sees significant tourism because of proximity to Montgomery—known as the birthplace of the Texas Flag—and other historic sites, such as San Felipe de Austin, the Battle of San Jacinto battlefield, Washington on the Brazos—where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed—and Huntsville, where General Sam Houston is buried, Hutcheson said.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but we are sort of a hub for historic sites,” he said. “That is fortunate for us.”
Hutcheson said nearby amenities like the 129-mile Lone Star Trail in the Sam Houston National Forest appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. The area also attracts bird-watchers because Conroe is located at a convergence of the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways.
“We are on the convergence of two major migration routes for birds in America that are coming from South America going to Canada or that are going to the East Coast,” he said. “You can be here in Conroe and see birds that you would have to travel around America to see.”
Major events like the Bass Pro Shops Big Bass Tour, which features a tournament on Lake Conroe, and the Championship Bull Riding Road to Cheyenne Tour attract tourists from all over the nation, Hutcheson said.
Conroe City Council invests about $100,000 in hotel tax revenue in grants per year to help market local events, Conroe City Manager Paul Virgadamo said. Hotel tax revenue must be used to promote tourism and the hotel industry, according to the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association.
In March, the City Council approved grants for 10 events, including two inaugural events—the Rising Stars & Legends of Texas event in April, which showcases Texas arts and artists, and the Conroe Americana Music Festival, a three-day festival that featured 50 bands in six venues in May.
Virgadamo said marketing events that take place in downtown Conroe is also in line with an effort to improve foot traffic in the downtown area.
“We have probably doubled what is going on in the downtown area from just a few years ago,” Virgadamo said. “That is one thing that council wanted us to do: Bring more events downtown.”